Pituitary Gland Conditions

a) Posterior pituitary gland

  • Diabetes insipidus (DI) – Production of much dilute urine (>3L/day) due to poor water reabsorption.

i) Central DI – This is a failure of the pituitary gland to produce ADH

Causes: Idiopathic (50%), congenital defect in ADH gene DIDMOAD + trauma/tumour


ii) Nephrogenic DI – This is an impaired renal response to ADH

Causes: Inherited genes, low K+, high Ca2+, Drugs (e.g. lithium, demeclocycline)


iii) Dipsogenic DI – This is producing large amounts of urine due to drinking too much water

Symptoms – These resemble those of losing water giving hypernatremia

– Polyuria + polydipsia (e.g. kids drinking bathwater) with risk of life-threatening dehydration

– Dilute urine and low specific gravity –> a high urine osmolality (> 700mOsm/kg) excludes DI


Diagnosis­ Increased Plasma Osmolality, Decreased Urine Osmolality

– Water deprivation test –> this tests ability of the kidney to concentrate urine

–> Patient empties bladder and is then deprived of water for 8 hours

–> Weighed hourly and urine collected every 2h – measure volume and osmolarity

–> After 8h, if urine osmolarity <600mOsmol/kg (dilute), give desmopressin

–> If osmolarity does not increase after 4h, then nephrogenic, otherwise neurogenic


Treatment – Central DI –> Desmopressin

– Nephrogenic DI –> Treat the cause + Bendroflumethiazide diuretic – acts as an anti-diuretic


  • SIADH syndrome – This is a disease which leads to excessive ADH secretion


Causes: Often due to ectopic ADH production (e.g. small cell lung carcinoma)

– CNS trauma + Drugs (SSRIs, opiates, TCAs)


Symptoms – Hyponatremia (low serum Na+ and low osmolarity) and low volume urine

– This leads to neuronal swelling and cerebral oedema giving rise to seizures, headache


DiagnosisConcentrated urine Na+ > 20mM, and >100mOsmol/kg with hyponatraemia (Na+<125mM)


Management – Water restriction

– Demeclocycline – an antibiotic which also reduces the sensitivity of the collecting duct to ADH

– ADH receptor antagonists – Vaptan drug family


b) Anterior pituitary gland

  • Hypopituitarism – This is decreased secretion of anterior pituitary hormones.

– Most commonly affected hormone is GH –> FSH/LH –> TSH –> ACTH –> Prolactin


Causes – These occur at 3 levels

– Hypothalamus – Kallman’s syndrome, tumour

– Pituitary stalk – Trauma, Carotid artery aneurysm

Pituitary gland – Adenoma + apoplexy (bleeding of adenoma, haemorrhage of gland)


  • Sheehan syndrome – during pregnancy, the gland doubles in size but blood supply hardly increases

– Blood loss during parturition gives ischaemia and infarction of pituitary gland

– Patients get fatigued + have poor lactation


  • Empty Sella syndrome – arachnoid mater and CSF herniate into Sella compressing the pituitary


  • Kallman Syndrome – failure of development of GnRH neurons derived from olfactory epithelium

– Gives anosmia (lack of smell) + cleft lip + colour blindness

– Low LH/FSH and low sex hormones cause delayed puberty and hypogonadism

– Height is usually normal or above average


Symptoms:  Hypopituitarism gives many symptoms due to the effect on the corresponding hormones.

Tests: Different tests are carried out to work out which hormones are affected e.g. LH/FSH, IGF-1

Treatment – Hormone replacement therapy


  • Pituitary adenoma – This is a benign tumour of the anterior pituitary cells.

– It can be a microadenoma (<1cm) or macro (>1cm)

– Can also be functional (hormone-producing) or non-functional (silent)

– Most common tumour is prolactin secreting –> non-functional –> GH secreting –> ACTH secreting


i) Non-functional tumours – these often present with mass effect due to structural compression

– Can cause bitemporal hemianopia –> compression of the optic chiasm

– Visual disturbances –> pressure on cavernous sinus pressing CN III, IV and VI

– Can cause hypopituitarism –> compression of normal pituitary tissue

– Early morning headaches, worse when lying down


ii) Functional tumours – these present with the features based on the type of hormone produced

– Usually prolactin, GH and ACTH producing – the others are very rare


Tests – Pituitary blood profile (GH, prolactin, ACTH, FH, LH and TFTs)

– MRI provides visualization of pituitary gland enlargement

– Formal visual field testing


Management – if it affects hormones, treat accordingly

– Surgery – transphenoidal hypophysectomy or radiotherapy (residual/recurrent adenomas)

    • Craniopharyngioma:

    –  A benign tumour of the epithelial remnants of Rathke’s pouch

    – This sits between the pituitary gland and the 3rd ventricle

    – It presents as a supratentorial mass in a child or young adult, often leading to compression of the optic chiasm

    Symptoms: (Children) Gives growth failure, and compression of structures

    – Bitemporal hemianopia (lower quadrants worse)

    (Adults) Amenorrhoea, loss of libido, DI, hyperphagia


    Imaging – CT/MRI shows calcifications (as if derived from “tooth like tissue”)


    Management – Surgical removal, but usually recurs after resection


    • Hyperprolactinemia – This is the most common hormone disturbance on the pituitary


    Causes: Most often due to a pituitary adenoma increasing production

    – Also due to reduced inhibition e.g. dopamine antagonists (Haloperidol, Domperidone)

    – Pregnancy and raised oestrogen           – Polycystic Ovary syndrome

    – Acromegaly (1/3 of patients)

    – Primary hypothyroidism –> as TRH stimulates prolactin release


    Symptoms: As well as direct effects on lactation, raised prolactin inhibits GnRH which decreases testosterone and estrogen giving secondary effects like osteoporosis.


    DiagnosisMRI visualisation of pituitary gland


    Management – 1st choice is dopamine agonists to reduce secretion e.g. Bromocriptine/Cabergoline

    – 2nd line is surgery


    • Acromegaly

    – This is a condition caused by increased secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary

    – Most often due to a pituitary adenoma


    Symptoms: GH stimulates bone and soft tissue growth through IGF-1

    – (Children) – gigantism due to increased bone growth

    – (Adults) – enlarged hands, tongue, jaw and feet (increase shoes size)

        – Acroparathesia – tingling in the extremities

        – Pituitary tumour features (headache + hyperprolactinaemia)

        – Excessive sweating and oily skin, due to sweat gland hypertrophy


    Complications Growth of visceral organs leads to cardiomyopathy


    – Secondary diabetes mellitus as GH induces gluconeogenesis                

    – Colorectal cancer



    – 1st line is to check if Serum IGF-1 level is raised

    Confirmation test is Oral glucose tolerance test –> Normally GH supressed to <2mu/L with glucose

    – In acromegaly there is no suppression of GH

    – MRI pituitary fossa to visualise tumour



    – 1st line is transphenoidal surgery

    Octreotide – somatostatin analogue, used as adjunct to surgery

    Pegvisomant – GH receptor antagonist, given by subcutaneous injection

    – Can use radiotherapy in older patients of if the methods above fail

    1. Hellerhoff / CC BY (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

    2. Philippe Chanson and Sylvie Salenave (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0


    Sign up to our mailing list to get an exclusive 10% discount on In2Med courses!