Pituitary tumors - Symptoms and causes (2023)


Pituitary tumor

Pituitary tumors - Symptoms and causes (1)

Pituitary tumor

Pituitary tumors are tumors that form in the pituitary gland near the brain. These tumors can cause changes in hormone levels. This image shows a smaller tumor, called a microadenoma.

Pituitary tumors are unusual growths that develop in the pituitary gland. This gland is a pea-sized organ. It is located behind the nose at the base of the brain. Some of these tumors cause the pituitary gland to overproduce certain hormones that control important body functions. Others may cause the pituitary gland to produce too little of these hormones.

Most pituitary tumors are benign. This means it is not cancer. Another name for these non-cancerous tumors is pituitary adenomas. Most adenomas remain in the pituitary gland or the tissue around it and grow slowly. They usually do not spread to other parts of the body.

Pituitary tumors can be treated in a number of ways. The tumor can be removed with surgery. Or its growth can be controlled with drugs or radiation therapy. Sometimes, hormone levels are treated with medication. Your healthcare provider may recommend a combination of these treatments. In some cases, observation - also called a "wait and see" approach - may be the right choice.


Types of pituitary adenomas include:

  • Mode.These adenomas produce hormones. They cause different symptoms depending on the type of hormones they produce. Functional pituitary adenomas fall into several categories, including those that:
    • Adrenocorticotropic hormone.This hormone is also known as ACTH. These tumors are sometimes called corticotrophic adenomas.
    • Growth hormone.These tumors are called somatotrophic adenomas.
    • Luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone.These hormones are also known as gonadotropins. Pituitary tumors that produce these hormones are called gonadotrophic adenomas.
    • Prolactin.These tumors are called prolactinomas or lactotrophic adenomas.
    • Thyroid stimulating hormone.These tumors are called thyrotrophic adenomas.
  • Not functional.These adenomas do not produce hormones. The symptoms they cause are related to the pressure their growth puts on the pituitary gland, nearby nerves and the brain.
  • Macroadenomas.These are larger adenomas. They are about 1 centimeter or more in size. That's a little less than half an inch. They may or may not work.
  • Microadenomas.These adenomas are smaller. They are less than 1 centimeter in size. That's a little less than half an inch. They may or may not work.

Pituitary tumors are different from pituitary cysts. A cyst is a sac that can be filled with air, fluid, or other material. A tumor is an unusual mass of cells that can grow over time. Cysts can form on or near the pituitary gland, but they are not tumors or adenomas.


Not all pituitary tumors cause symptoms. Sometimes these tumors are found during an imaging test, such as aMRIor aCTscan, which is done for another reason. If they do not cause symptoms, pituitary tumors usually do not need treatment.

Pituitary tumor symptoms can be caused by a tumor that is putting pressure on the brain or other parts of the body nearby. Symptoms can also be caused by a hormonal imbalance. Hormone levels may be elevated when a pituitary tumor produces too much of one or more hormones. Or a large tumor that disrupts the way the pituitary gland works can cause hormone levels to drop.

Symptoms from tumor pressure

Macroadenomas can put pressure on the pituitary gland, nerves, brain, and other parts of the body nearby. This can cause symptoms such as:

  • Headache.
  • Eye problems due to pressure on the optic nerve, especially loss of side vision, also called farsightedness and double vision.
  • Pain in the face, sometimes including sinus pain or ear pain.
  • Droopy eyelid.
  • Epileptic seizures.
  • Nausea and vomiting.

Symptoms from hormonal changes

Cushing's syndrome

Pituitary tumors - Symptoms and causes (2)

Cushing's syndrome

Untreated, Cushing's syndrome can cause roundness of the face, weight gain around the mid-body and upper back, thinning of the arms and legs, easy bruising and stretch marks.

Illustration showing a person with acromegaly

Pituitary tumors - Symptoms and causes (3)

Illustration showing a person with acromegaly

Symptoms of acromegaly include an enlarged face and hands. Changes to the face can cause the browbone and jawbone to protrude and the nose and lips to become larger.

Low amounts of hormones

Macroadenomas can limit the pituitary gland's ability to produce hormones. When this happens, symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue or weakness.
  • Lack of energy.
  • Sexual problems, such as problems with erections and less interest in sex.
  • Changes in menstrual cycles.
  • Motion sickness.
  • I am cold.
  • Slimming or weight loss without effort.

High amounts of hormones

Functional pituitary adenomas usually produce a large amount of a hormone. This exposes the body to high levels of this hormone. Rarely, a pituitary adenoma may produce more than one hormone. The following types of functional pituitary adenomas cause different symptoms depending on the hormones they produce.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone-producing pituitary tumors

Pituitary tumors that produce adrenocorticotropic hormone are called corticotrophic adenomas. Adrenocorticotropic hormone, also calledAKTH, causes the adrenal glands to produce the hormone cortisol.AKTHtumors trigger the adrenal glands to produce too much cortisol. This causes a condition called Cushing's disease. Cushing's disease is a cause of Cushing's syndrome.

Symptoms of Cushing's disease include:

  • Weight gain and fatty deposits around the midsection and upper back.
  • Rounded face.
  • Streaks.
  • Thin skin that bruises easily.
  • Thinning of the arms and legs with muscle weakness.
  • Thicker or more prominent body hair.
  • Slow healing cuts, insect bites and infections.
  • Areas with dark skin.
  • Acne.
  • Changes in menstrual cycles.
  • Sexual problems, including problems with erections and less interest in sex.

Pituitary tumors that produce growth hormone

Growth hormone-producing pituitary tumors are also called growth hormone-secreting tumors or somatotrophic adenomas. Too much growth hormone leads to a condition known as acromegaly. Acromegaly can cause:

  • Changes in facial features, including larger lips, nose and tongue. longer lower jaw; and long spaces between the teeth.
  • Development of arms and legs.
  • Thicker skin.
  • More sweating and body odor.
  • Joint pain.
  • A deeper voice.

Children and teenagers who have too much growth hormone may also grow faster or taller than usual. This condition is called gigantism.

Pituitary tumors that produce luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone

Lutein-stimulating hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) are also known as gonadotropins. Pituitary tumors that produce these hormones are called gonadotrophic adenomas.

It is unusual for these adenomas to produce too many hormones which then cause symptoms. Instead, symptoms from these adenomas are usually due to tumor pressure. If symptoms occur due to an overdoseLHandFSH, affect women and men differently.

Symptoms in women may include:

  • Change in menstrual cycles.
  • Fertility problems.
  • Enlargement and pain in the ovaries caused by a condition called ovarian hyperstimulation syndrome.

Symptoms in men may include:

  • Enlarged testicles.
  • Higher testosterone levels.

Pituitary tumors that produce prolactin

These adenomas are called prolactinomas. Too much of the hormone prolactin can lead to a decrease in the levels of the body's sex hormones - estrogen and testosterone. Too much prolactin affects men and women differently.

In women, too much prolactin can cause:

  • Irregular menstrual cycles.
  • Lack of menstrual cycles.
  • Milky discharge from the breasts.
  • Tenderness in breast.
  • Problems with fertility.
  • Less interest in sex.

In men, too much prolactin can cause a condition called male hypogonadism. Symptoms may include:

  • Problems with erection.
  • Less interest in sex.
  • Breast development.
  • Problems with fertility.
  • Less body and facial hair.

Pituitary tumors that produce thyroid-stimulating hormone

Pituitary tumors that produce thyroid-stimulating hormone are called thyrotrophic adenomas. They may also be referred to as thyroid-stimulating hormone-secreting tumors. They cause the thyroid gland to produce too much of the hormone thyroxine, also called T-4. This leads to a condition called hyperthyroidism, also known as overactive thyroid disease. Hyperthyroidism can speed up the body's metabolism causing many symptoms. Some of the most common include:

  • Weight loss.
  • Fast or irregular heartbeat.
  • Nervousness, anxiety or irritability.
  • Frequent bowel movements.
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling.
  • Sleep problems.

When to see a doctor

If you experience symptoms that may be related to a pituitary tumor, see your healthcare provider. Treatment for pituitary tumors can often restore hormones to a healthy level and ease symptoms.

Although rare, some pituitary tumors are hereditary. This means they run in families. Specifically, the inherited disorder multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 1 (MEN 1) can cause pituitary tumors. IfMEN 1runs in your family, talk to your healthcare provider about tests that may help find a pituitary tumor early.

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Pituitary gland and hypothalamus

Pituitary tumors - Symptoms and causes (4)

Pituitary gland and hypothalamus

The pituitary gland and hypothalamus are located inside the brain and control the production of hormones.

The pituitary gland is a small organ about the size of a pea. It is located behind the nose at the base of the brain. Despite its small size, the pituitary gland has an effect on almost every part of the body. The hormones it produces control important body functions such as growth, blood pressure and reproduction.

The cause of uncontrolled cell growth in the pituitary gland, which creates a tumor, remains unknown. In rare cases, pituitary tumors can be caused by genes you have inherited. But most have no clear hereditary cause. However, scientists believe that changes in genes may play an important role in how pituitary tumors develop.

Risk factors

Most people who get pituitary tumors do not have any factors that put them at a higher risk of developing these tumors. Environmental and lifestyle choices do not appear to have an effect on a person's risk for pituitary tumors.

Although genetics appears to play a role, most people who have pituitary tumors do not have a family history of them.

The only known risk factors are several rare inherited conditions that increase the risk of many health problems, including pituitary tumors. These conditions include:

  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 1, also called MEN 1.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia, type 4, also called MEN 4.
  • Carney complex.
  • McCune-Albright syndrome.


Pituitary tumors usually do not spread to other parts of the body. However, they can affect a person's health. Pituitary tumors can cause:

  • Vision problems, including vision loss.
  • High blood pressure.
  • High blood sugar.
  • Bone loss.
  • Heart problems.
  • Problems with thinking and memory.

Epileptic seizures

If a pituitary tumor presses on a part of the brain called the medial temporal lobe, it can lead to a seizure. This type of seizure is known as a focal seizure with impaired awareness. These seizures involve a change or loss of consciousness or awareness. If you have one of these spasms, it may seem like you're awake. But you are staring into space and not responding as usual to the environment around you. You may not remember the crisis after it happens.

Permanently low hormone levels

Having a pituitary tumor or having one surgically removed can permanently change your body's hormone supply. As a result, you may need hormone replacement therapy for the rest of your life.

Pituitary apoplexy

A rare but potentially serious complication of a pituitary tumor is pituitary apoplexy. This happens when there is sudden bleeding into the tumor. Symptoms include:

  • A severe headache, probably worse than you've ever had before.
  • Problems with your vision, including double vision or loss of vision in one or both eyes.
  • Nausea and vomiting.
  • Confusion or other impaired mental function.

Pituitary apoplexy requires urgent treatment. Treatment usually involves taking corticosteroid medications to relieve swelling around the tumor. You may also need surgery to remove the tumor.

By the Mayo Clinic staff

November 29, 2022


What symptoms does a pituitary tumor cause? ›

Pituitary Gland Tumor: Symptoms and Signs
  • Headaches.
  • Vision problems.
  • Unexplained tiredness.
  • Mood changes.
  • Irritability.
  • Unexplained changes in menstrual cycles.
  • Erectile dysfunction, which is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection and is caused by hormone changes.
  • Infertility, which is the inability to have children.

Who is most likely to get a pituitary tumor? ›

Older adults are more likely to be diagnosed with this type of tumor, but it can occur at any age. When a person aged 15 to 19 has a brain tumor, a pituitary gland tumor is a common subtype diagnosis (more than 33% of brain tumors in this age group). Women are more likely to develop these tumors than men.

What part of the body does a pituitary tumor affect? ›

Tumors that grow large enough can also press on and destroy the normal parts of the pituitary gland. This can lead to low levels of one or more pituitary hormones, which can in turn lead to low levels of some body hormones such as cortisol, thyroid hormone, and sex hormones.

When should you suspect a pituitary tumor? ›

Symptoms can include low blood pressure, low blood sugar, fatigue, fertility problems, and decreased sex drive. Pituitary tumors generally occur spontaneously without any known cause.

Where do you feel pituitary pain? ›

The pituitary gland is a small gland that sits behind the bridge of the nose, beneath the brain. Tumors around this gland may cause various types of headaches, but they often cause pain in the forehead.

What mimics pituitary tumor? ›

Primary hypophysitis — also called idopathic hypophysitis — is a rare inflammatory condition of the pituitary gland and is believed to be an autoimmune disorder. Immune cells (primarily leukocytes) infiltrate the pituitary gland and gather into a mass that can mimic a pituitary tumor.

What is the most common pituitary disorder? ›

Pituitary tumors, also called pituitary adenomas, are the most common cause of pituitary gland disorders. More than 99 percent of these tumors are benign.

What is the life expectancy of someone with a pituitary tumor? ›

Life expectancy following the diagnosis of pituitary tumor is overwhelmingly positive. The 5-year survival rate of pituitary adenomas is over 97%, meaning that the vast majority of people go on to live at least 5 or more years following diagnosis.

Can eye doctor see pituitary tumor? ›

Optometrists can detect pituitary adenomas during an eye exam, which can go unnoticed in a physical wellness exam. A pituitary adenoma can cause a particular visual field defect known as bitemporal hemianopsia, which limits the peripheral vision on each side of the visual field.

Is a pituitary tumor a big deal? ›

Pituitary tumors are very rarely cancer.

They don't grow very large or spread to other parts of the body. But pituitary tumors can still cause health problems, for 2 main reasons: Some tumors make too much of a certain hormone. This can make it hard for the body to work the way it should.

What is the survival rate for pituitary tumor removal? ›

The 5-year survival rate for people with a pituitary tumor is excellent — 97%.

How do pituitary tumors start? ›

The causes of pituitary tumors are unknown. Some tumors are caused by hereditary disorders such as multiple endocrine neoplasia I (MEN I). The pituitary gland can be affected by other brain tumors that develop in the same part of the brain (skull base), resulting in similar symptoms.

What foods should you avoid with a pituitary tumor? ›

“Avoid foods that are spicy, fried or fatty because they don't settle well in the stomach whenever you're nauseous, and foods that have a strong aroma could also trigger nausea,” says Rosemond. “Try eating simple foods that can help ease nausea and settle the stomach, like plain toast or crackers. Ginger also helps.”

Which organ do pituitary hormones most affect? ›

The ACTH released from the anterior pituitary acts on its target organ, the Adrenal gland, and stimulates the production of Glucocorticoids from the Zona Fasiculata and androgens from the Zona Reticularis.

Can bloodwork detect pituitary tumor? ›

Lab tests of pituitary tissue samples. In diagnosing cancers and tumors in most other parts of the body, imaging tests and blood tests may strongly suggest a certain type of tumor, but a biopsy (removing a sample of the tumor to examine under a microscope) is often the only way to be sure of the diagnosis.

What labs rule out pituitary tumor? ›

To diagnose functional pituitary adenomas, doctors may run blood tests or other diagnostic tests to look for abnormally high amounts of: adrenocortisol (ACTH) and cortisol. growth hormone (GH) and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) prolactin.

What is the best test for pituitary tumor? ›

An MRI of the brain can help detect a pituitary tumor and show its location and size. CT scan. A computed tomography scan, also called a CT scan, is a type of imaging test that combines a series of X-rays to create cross-sectional images.

Can a pituitary tumor make you feel sick? ›

These types of tumors may also press on and damage healthy parts of the pituitary gland. This can reduce the amount of pituitary hormones and cause symptoms like: Upset stomach (nausea) Weakness and tiredness.

What organs does the pituitary gland affect? ›

The pituitary gland is referred to as the “master gland” because it monitors and regulates many bodily functions through the hormones that it produces, including: Growth and sexual/reproductive development and function. Glands (thyroid gland, adrenal glands, and gonads) Organs (kidneys, uterus, and breasts)

What does a pituitary gland tumor headache feel like? ›

Headache pain in these situations is typically characterized by steady, bifrontal or unilateral frontal aching (ipsilateral to tumor). In some instances, pain is localized in the midface (either because of involvement of the second division of the trigeminal or secondary to sinusitis).

What autoimmune disease attacks the pituitary gland? ›

Background: Autoimmune hypophysitis (AH) is a primary autoimmune inflammatory disorder of the pituitary gland, which usually presents as a mass in the sella turcica. Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is another inflammatory disorder in which the immune system attacks healthy cells and tissues throughout the body.

What are the symptoms of an inflamed pituitary gland? ›

The most common symptoms and signs of hypophysitis are anterior and posterior pituitary gland failure (which may include adrenal insufficiency, hypothyroidism, hypogonadism, growth hormone deficiency, as well as diabetes insipidus). Other common symptoms include headache and visual loss.

What are 4 diseases due to pituitary disorder? ›

The pituitary gland, sometimes called the “master gland,” produces hormones that enable other glands in the body to function. Pituitary gland disorders include acromegaly, Cushing's syndrome, diabetes insipidus, empty sella syndrome, hypopituitarism and pituitary tumors.

How would your body be affected if your pituitary gland was not working properly? ›

In women, the deficiency decreases egg and estrogen production from the ovaries. In men, the deficiency decreases sperm and testosterone production from the testicles. Women and men may experience a lower sex drive, infertility or fatigue. In children and adolescents, delayed puberty is usually the only symptom.

What are the symptoms of Sheehan's syndrome? ›

The symptoms of Sheehan syndrome occur as a result of the low hormone levels. These may include an inability to produce breast milk, irregular or absent periods, hot flashes, and a decreased sex drive. Other symptoms may include fatigue, headaches, low blood pressure, and hair loss.

Can you have a pituitary tumor for years and not know? ›

Most pituitary tumors don't cause symptoms. As a result, they are not diagnosed. Or they are found only during a routine brain imaging test. About 25% of people may have small pituitary tumors without knowing it.

What happens if a pituitary tumor goes untreated? ›

Extremely large pituitary tumors can even cause pressure on the brain, leading to seizures or blockage of the normal flow of cerebrospinal fluid (a condition called hydrocephalus, or “water on the brain”).

Is a pituitary tumor a disability? ›

If you suffer from a pituitary gland malfunction and it makes you unable to work, you may qualify for Social Security disability.

Can pituitary tumor cause sinus problems? ›

Patients often wonder if pituitary tumors can cause ear or sinus problems. It is possible, but very rare, for a pituitary tumor to cause these symptoms.

Can a pituitary tumor cause neuropathy? ›

Abstract. Introduction: Pituitary adenoma is a common benign tumor representing 8 to 10% of intracranial mass lesions. The compressive optic neuropathy associated with a pituitary adenoma can be clinically indistinguishable from glaucomatous optic neuropathy.

Are pituitary tumors urgent? ›

However, because the pituitary gland affects important body functions, these tumors can cause serious symptoms and require specialized and often urgent treatment.

What size pituitary tumor should be removed? ›

Conclusion Microadenoma has classically been used to describe pituitary tumors less than 1 cm, though no clinical significance of this threshold has been demonstrated. The current study suggests a size cut-off of 20 or 30 mm as more clinically relevant.

Should pituitary tumors be removed? ›

Because pituitary tumors are usually benign, it's better to start with a treatment that has a lower risk of complications, such as surgery or medication when appropriate. Radiation therapy is reserved for tumors that recur even after past surgeries.

How painful is pituitary surgery? ›

Will there be much pain or discomfort? Most patients experience mild to moderate discomfort for several days after surgery. The amount of discomfort varies from patient to patient, with some requiring only mild pain medications for a day or two whereas a minority of patients require pain medications for several weeks.

How long are you in the hospital after pituitary tumor surgery? ›

A typical hospital admission for patients undergoing pituitary tumor surgery lasts 2 to 3 days; overnight in the intensive care unit (ICU) and 1or 2 more on the nursing floor.

Is pituitary tumor considered brain surgery? ›

Yes, pituitary surgery is considered brain surgery. However, rather than opening the skull in a traditional craniotomy, a neurosurgeon usually reaches a pituitary tumor through the nasal passages and the sphenoid sinus.

Can an MRI tell if a tumor is benign? ›

MRI is very good at zeroing in on some kinds of cancers. By looking at your body with MRI, doctors may be able to see if a tumor is benign or cancerous.

Can stress make a pituitary tumor grow? ›

Chronic stress can activate the hypothalamic-pituitary adrenal axis and the sympathetic nervous system, cause the release of endocrine hormones and promote the occurrence and development of tumors.

Is a pituitary tumor a brain tumor? ›

Pituitary gland tumours are brain tumours that start to grow in the the pituitary gland. Most pituitary tumours are non cancerous (benign). Benign pituitary gland tumours are also called pituitary adenomas. The pituitary gland is a small gland that lies in a hollow, just behind the eyes.

What shrinks pituitary tumor? ›

Dopamine agonists can usually stop prolactinomas from making too much prolactin and can shrink these tumors. One of these drugs is often the only treatment needed for these tumors. Cabergoline and bromocriptine (Parlodel) are most commonly used.

What would be symptoms of a person with a pituitary tumor? ›

Pituitary Gland Tumor: Symptoms and Signs
  • Headaches.
  • Vision problems.
  • Unexplained tiredness.
  • Mood changes.
  • Irritability.
  • Unexplained changes in menstrual cycles.
  • Erectile dysfunction, which is the inability to achieve or maintain an erection and is caused by hormone changes.
  • Infertility, which is the inability to have children.

How fast do pituitary tumors grow? ›

Most pituitary tumors are slow growing, approximately 1-3mm/year.

Does pituitary gland affect energy? ›

The pituitary gland is located on the lower side of the brain and, under hypothalamic control, regulates growth, reproductive development, stress response, and energy metabolism.

What can trigger the pituitary gland? ›

Your hypothalamus makes the following hormones to communicate with and stimulate your pituitary gland: Corticotrophin-releasing hormone (CRH). Dopamine. Gonadotrophin-releasing hormone (GnRH).

What pain is associated with pituitary tumor? ›

Pituitary tumors may directly provoke headaches by eroding laterally into the cavernous sinus, which contains the first and second divisions of the trigeminal nerve, by involvement of the dural lining of the sella or diaphragma sella (which are innervated by the trigeminal nerve), or via sinusitis, particularly after ...

Can an eye doctor see a pituitary tumor? ›

If a pituitary tumor is strongly suspected, your doctor may refer you to an ophthalmologist (eye doctor) to check your vision more carefully, as pituitary tumors can damage nerves leading to the eyes. The most common test is to measure how well you can see.

How do you rule out a pituitary tumor? ›

How are pituitary tumors diagnosed?
  1. Blood and urine tests. These tests will check hormone levels in your blood and urine.
  2. CT scan. This test uses X-rays and a computer to make images of your body.
  3. MRI. ...
  4. Biopsy.

Can a pituitary tumor cause neurological symptoms? ›

Pituitary tumors and other pituitary disorders can have several signs, but most often fall into these categories: Neurologic symptoms when a pituitary lesion is large (headaches, loss of peripheral vision, double vision)

What foods to avoid if you have a pituitary tumor? ›

“Avoid foods that are spicy, fried or fatty because they don't settle well in the stomach whenever you're nauseous, and foods that have a strong aroma could also trigger nausea,” says Rosemond. “Try eating simple foods that can help ease nausea and settle the stomach, like plain toast or crackers. Ginger also helps.”

How likely is it that I have a pituitary tumor? ›

About 1 in 10 people will develop a pituitary adenoma in their lifetime. Some pituitary adenomas secrete one or more hormones in excess. Even when they are small in size, these endocrine-active pituitary tumors can cause hormonal imbalances that affect body functions. People can develop pituitary adenomas at any age.

Can blood test detect pituitary tumor? ›

Hormone Blood Testing to Diagnose Pituitary Tumors

The first step in diagnosing a pituitary tumor is often a blood test to check for hormone imbalances. Because the pituitary gland plays an important role in hormone production, the presence of a tumor can lead to an imbalance of certain hormones in the body.

What is the survival rate of pituitary surgery? ›

The 5-year survival rate for people with a pituitary tumor is excellent — 97%.

Should I have my pituitary tumor removed? ›

Many pituitary adenomas don't need treatment. They are not cancer, so if they don't cause symptoms, simply watching them over time may be a good approach. If treatment is needed, the specific treatment depends on the tumor type, size, location and growth over time.


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