Pituitary Gland: The Master Gland

Posted by James Case on

The pituitary gland is only about the size of a pea, but it does an incredible job of controlling the rest of the endocrine (hormonal) system. It handles critical bodily functions ranging from managing body temperature, regulating sleep patterns, controlling urine amounts and dictating one’s general wellbeing as it controls other hormonal glands. This is why the pituitary gland is variously referred to as the master gland. It is safely positioned in a cavity at the base of the brain adjacent to the hypothalamus which in turn controls the pituitary gland through signals from the brain. 

Parts of the pituitary gland

The pituitary can be divided into three main sections:

(1) The anterior section is chiefly responsible for body growth, sexual development as well as reproduction. The anterior part of the pituitary produces hormones for stimulating the thyroid and adrenal glands and enhancing the functioning of testes and ovaries. The hormone prolactin generated by the pituitary makes it possible for new mothers to have milk for their newborns.

(2) The intermediate section of the pituitary helps in melanin production and thus controls skin pigmentation.

(3) The posterior part of the pituitary gland is responsible for the production of the antidiuretic hormone that helps retrieve water from kidneys and thus conserve water and avoid dehydration. The posterior section also produces oxytocin hormone which helps in breastfeeding.

 Connection Between The Hypothalamus And The Pituitary

The hypothalamus can be described as the control unit of the pituitary gland as it receives communication from the brain and sends signals hormonal information to the pituitary. In return, the pituitary gland acts on the messages from the hypothalamus by controlling the production and release of more hormones from the pituitary itself and also from other glands as well as organs. The hypothalamus helps carry out many important processes of the body such as food absorption, water intake and dehydration, sleeping and waking patterns, regulating body heat, memory or retention capability and emotional behaviors.

Problems Connected to the Pituitary

On the one hand, hypopituitarism refers to a condition where a pituitary is producing or releasing insufficient levels of a particular hormone. Inadequate amounts of some hormones can lead to conditions, for example:

• Deficiency of adult growth hormone: Insufficiency of adult growth hormone is bound to result in problematic bodily growth and development as well as an inefficient metabolic system.

• Diabetes insipidus: The pituitary gland can fail to release or respond to the antidiuretic hormone, resulting in diabetes insipidus. The patient passes large amounts of dilute urine and experiences increased thirst levels. 

On the other hand, an overproduction of some hormones results in situations brought about by the overabundance of the respective hormones. The specific features caused by the over production of hormones include:

• Prolactinoma: This condition happens due to unexplainable increase in the amounts of prolactin hormone. 

• Acromegaly: If the pituitary develops a benign tumor, it can lead to excess production of the growth hormone. Facial appearance usually changes, and often enlargement of the feet is observed.

• Cushing’s disease: Cushing’s disease results from the overproduction of cortisol hormone which is made available to the adrenal glands. While the actual cause of the benign tumor remains a puzzle, studies suggest that there’s a genetic link to the condition.

Other Common Conditions of the Pituitary Gland

• Empty Sella Syndrome (ESS): This refers to the flattening of the pituitary or a situation in which the gland has shrunken as shown by scans of the brain. The majority of people with Empty Sella Syndrome exhibit no symptoms and in many cases treatment is not required. Hormonal deficiencies, if present, are treated with hormone replacement therapy.

• Craniopharyngioma: This is a rare kind of tumor which is congenital, meaning that most victims have it right from birth. It lies between the pituitary and the hypothalamus and exerts pressure on the latter organ which is tasked with the secretion of hormones that control the production of their pituitary counterparts. This cyst is mostly common among adults, but it can manifest at any age.

• Sheehan’s syndrome/postpartum pituitary deficiency/postpartum hypopituitarism usually occurs to women who experience severe uterine hemorrhage or excessive bleeding when giving birth. As a result of the severe bleeding, the pituitary may be starved of blood and thus fail to function properly. Women who experience placenta complications or those with multiple pregnancies (carrying twins or triplets) are at a greater risk of developing Sheehan’s syndrome.

Surgical Operations for Pituitary Issues

The majority of ailments of the pituitary result from growths or benign tumors. The word benign is largely used by medical practitioners to denote growths that are not cancerous and therefore not classified as necessarily life-threatening. Surgery is usually the best mode of treatment, and with the enhancement of technology, modern surgical operations present a lower risk of scarring. In many cases, tumors are removed through trans-sphenoidal surgery. With this surgical operation, small incisions are made into the inside of the nostril; this allows the surgeon to see as well as operate on your pituitary without any disturbance to the rest of the brain.

Patients undergoing this surgery are usually hospitalized for about five days and can normally eat only a day after the operation. Antibiotics are usually administered for prevention of infections in the operated area. One is able to recover after one to two months although recovery periods vary from one person to another.


Radiation may be recommended either as a single treatment or as a follow-up alternative after surgery. Either way, it is important to note that even though one undergoes radiotherapy for pituitary tumors, it does not mean that the growths are cancerous or the patient has cancer. Radiotherapy for pituitary gland problems is administered for a few weeks, and it is not the right treatment for all types of tumors.

Treatment for the majority of pituitary conditions requires the use of medicines that can be combined with radiotherapy or surgery, or be taken as a complete treatment regimen on their own. Drugs are usually used to lower amounts of overproduced hormones or stimulate the production of more hormones where there is a deficit. 

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