October is Pituitary awareness month and this month raises awareness of conditions that affect the pituitary gland.
What is the pituitary gland?
The pituitary gland is also called the Master gland of the endocrine system. It is an oval structure that sits in the sella turcica of the sphenoid bone. It is in control of many vital functions including metabolism, growth, reproduction, and blood pressure.
The pituitary gland is divided into two lobes, the anterior lobe - adenohypophysis, and the posterior lobe - neurohypophysis.
The adenohypophysis produces and secretes pituitary hormones and its function is controlled by the hypothalamus. Examples of these hormones include growth hormone (for growth of the long bones), prolactin (for milk secretion), and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) (for maturation of the female reproductive system - spermatogenesis in males and ovarian follicle maturation in females).
The neurohypophysis releases hormones that are originally produced in the hypothalamus. These are oxytocin (for uterine contractions and lactation in childbirth) and antidiuretic hormone (for blood pressure and controlling kidney function).
Pituitary gland disorders are considered to be relatively rare but there are around 70,000 pituitary patients here in the UK.
The most common disorder of the pituitary gland is the presence of an adenoma, a benign growth. These are not typically called brain tumours as they are not usually cancerous. Some can exist for many years whilst being asymptomatic. The most common type of growth is a non-functioning tumour. This inhibits hormone production, causes headaches and interferes with the function of the pituitary gland.
Other pituitary conditions include acromegaly, Cushing's disease, and hypopituitarism.
Acromegaly results in too much f=growth hormone in the body. A benign mass is present in the pituitary gland and this causes the pituitary to produce too much growth hormone. It can cause gigantism.
Cushing’s disease is when the body makes too much cortisol, which is responsible for regulating blood pressure and helps the body respond to stress. It is produced in the adrenal glands which lie on top of the kidneys. Cushing’s occurs when a mass on the pituitary gland produces too much adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH), this travels to the adrenal glands and causes too much cortisol to be released.
Hypopituitarism is caused by a benign mass in the gland and causes underactivity of the pituitary gland causing hormones to not be produced at all or too little it is produced.
Pituitary gland disorders can be managed with medication or the benign masses can be removed using radiotherapy or surgery.
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