skip to main content
Main Site Navigation
Top of main content

What Are Pituitary Adenomas?

A pituitary adenoma is a growth in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland, or master gland, lies at the base of the brain and controls growth, metabolism, and reproduction. This gland makes a number of hormones including corticotropin (ACTH), which causes the adrenal gland to produce corticosteroids, and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which causes the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone. The pituitary also makes growth hormone (GH), which controls body growth; prolactin, which is needed for breast development and milk production; follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH), which work in sexual development and reproduction; antidiuretic hormone, which is needed for water balance and blood pressure; and oxytocin, which helps the uterus contract during childbirth.

Adenomas can cause the pituitary to make too much or too little of a hormone. A very large adenoma can press on the brain itself and cause headaches and other symptoms.

What Causes Pituitary Adenomas?

The cause is unknown.

What Are the Symptoms of Pituitary Adenomas?

Symptoms depend on the size of the growth and its effects in the body. The most common symptoms are headache and vision changes. Depending on which pituitary hormones are affected, there are many other possible symptoms, including acne, loss of menstrual periods, inability to get pregnant (women), nipple discharge, inability to have an erection, easy bruising, too much body hair, large jaw, joint pain, oily skin, round face, thin skin, and vaginal dryness.

How Are Pituitary Adenomas Diagnosed?

The health care provider will take a medical history, do a physical examination, and test blood and urine to measure hormone levels. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain will be done to find the tumor and measure its size. Vision tests will be done to rule out damage to the visual areas near the pituitary.

The health care provider may suggest seeing an endocrinologist and a neurosurgeon. An endocrinologist is a health care provider who specializes in disorders of the endocrine system. A neurosurgeon is a health care provider who specializes in brain surgery.

How Are Pituitary Adenomas Treated?

Treatment depends on the adenoma size and its effects. Treatment may involve surgery, radiation, and medicines.

People with very small growths and no symptoms usually don’t need treatment. Every few months, blood tests and MRI will be done to make sure that it’s not growing.

If an adenoma is making too much hormone, drugs will be given to prevent more hormone from being made and to control symptoms.

If an adenoma is causing a lack of a hormone, the missing hormone will be prescribed (hormone replacement therapy).

Surgery and radiation, if needed, will depend on the adenoma size and location.

DOs and DON’Ts in Managing Pituitary Adenomas:

  • DO tell your health care provider about medicines you take, including prescription and over-the-counter drugs.
  • DO tell your health care provider if you’re pregnant or plan to get pregnant.
  • DO call your health care provider right away or go to the emergency room if you have a sudden headache or change in vision.
  • DON’T stop taking your medicine or change your dose, even if you feel better, unless your health care provider says you can.

Contact the following source:

  • National Brain Tumor Society
    Tel: (800) 934-2873
  • The Endocrine Society
    Tel: (888) 363-6274

Copyright © 2016 by Saunders, an imprint of Elsevier, Inc.

Ferri’s Netter Patient Advisor

Not sure which type of care is right for you?

We can help.