Understanding Hypopituitarism – A Tale Of An Underperforming Pituitary Pea

Published: 2009-08-26, Last Modified:

Though the word hormone typically brings to mind estrogen and testosterone, two of the sex hormones, our bodies produce and use more than 50 different types of hormone to communicate control messages between the different cells in our bodies. Our hormones regulate everything from appetite to sexual function to growth to reproduction to behavior to blood flow. The glands that produce the different hormones are located at various points within the body. Some hormones are transferred in the blood to distant cells in the body while others act more locally by seeping into nearby tissues. Because of their importance in controlling operation of the body, production of hormone levels that is too high or low can cause serious health problems.

What Is The Pituitary Gland?

Often called the “master gland”, yet only the size of a large pea, the highly influential pituitary gland sits at the bottom of the brain in front of the ears and behind the nose. Though it is not really the master and the hypothalamus portion of the brain that sits above it truly owns that title, the tiny pituitary is still very involved in controlling a considerable amount of regular bodily functioning. This is achieved through its production and distribution of at least 8 important hormones. As a result of its influence and concentration of hormone production within a single small gland, problems with the pituitary gland can result in a number of medical symptoms.

If we focus only on reduced hormone production by the pituitary gland, a condition called hypopituitarism, the list of symptoms is still quite large. Low levels of one of the hormones, called ACTH, will result in fatigue, weight loss, anemia, low blood sugar levels and low blood sodium levels. Low levels of another hormone, called TSH, result in low blood pressure, reduced heart rate, weight gain, slower thinking, hair loss and constipation. Reduced production of growth hormone by the pituitary results in loss of muscle, accumulation of belly fat, poor memory and reduced mental focus. Considering only 3 of the 8 hormones, it is clear that reduced hormone production by the pituitary has very serious health effects.

What Are The Causes Of Hypopituitarism?

So, what can cause hypopituitarism? Often described as a rare disease affecting no more than 1 in 1500 people, there are many causes for the condition including some that are still not understood. Brain tumors, birth defects, strokes, autoimmune diseases, infections in the brain and even tuberculosis can all cause the condition. That said, one area in which hypopituitarism is likely significantly under diagnosed however, is in those with brain injury.

With roughly 2% of the US population living with some form of brain injury, it is quite likely that the numbers of those with the condition is actually much higher than 1 in 1500. This would make the condition not at all rare and mean that quite a number of people are suffering some effects from reduced pituitary hormone levels.

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Category: General Health, Medical Research, Symptom Information

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