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Pituitary Tumor Symptoms

Most pituitary tumors do not cause symptoms.

When symptoms do arise, it is usually because the tumor is:

  • putting pressure on the brain
  • affecting hormone production in the pituitary gland
  • compressing the optic nerves

Hormone Imbalances due to a Pituitary Condition

Because the pituitary gland plays an important role in hormone production, a tumor in the pituitary gland can lead to an imbalance of certain hormones in the body.

Most pituitary tumors (known as functioning pituitary adenomas) create imbalances because they secrete hormones, leading to too much of a given hormone in the body. The excess hormone has what’s known as a cascading effect, resulting in the overproduction of other hormones that may actually be the cause of your symptoms.

For example, in the case of an ACTH-secreting tumor, the excess ACTH leads to the overproduction of the hormone cortisol. It is the excess amount of cortisol in the body that causes symptoms, not ACTH.

In other cases, the tumor may cause an imbalance because it has grown in such a way that it inhibits the production of a hormone by the pituitary gland. The result is a hormone deficiency, also known as hypopituitarism.

The following table shows the symptoms that can develop based on whether there’s too much or too little of a hormone present in the body due to a pituitary tumor. It is important to note that pituitary tumors are just one possible cause of a hormone imbalance.

Hormone imbalance Type of pituitary tumor associated with hormone imbalance Symptoms caused by excess hormone Symptoms caused by hormone deficiency

Cortisol

 

Excess cortisol is associated with ACTH-secreting tumors

Cortisol deficiency  is associated with size and location of a pituitary tumor

Weight gain

Thinning of legs and arms

Diabetes

High blood pressure

Depression/anxiety

Other signs of Cushing’s syndrome

Fatigue

Low blood pressure

Poor appetite/nausea

 

Insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1)

Excess IGF-1 is associated with growth hormone–secreting tumors

IGF-1 deficiency is associated with size and location of a pituitary tumor

Enlarged hands or feet

Other signs of acromegaly

Fatigue

Loss of muscle mass

Prolactin

 

 

Excess prolactin is associated with prolactin-secreting tumors

Prolactin deficiency is associated with size and location of a pituitary tumor

Irregular or absent periods in women

Breast milk production in women who are not nursing

Infertility or erectile dysfunction in men

No symptoms, typically

Thyroid hormone

Excess thyroid hormone is associated with TSH-secreting tumors

Thyroid hormone deficiency is associated with size and location of a pituitary tumor

Weight loss

Rapid or irregular heartbeat

Sweating

Irritability

Other symptoms of hyperthyroidism

Appetite loss

Weight gain

Fatigue

Testosterone, estrogen

Excess testosterone or estrogen is associated with gonadotropin-secreting tumors

Testosterone or estrogen deficiency is associated with size and location of a pituitary tumor

No symptoms, typically

Infertility

Loss of body or facial hair in men

Vision Problems

The size and location of the tumor can also cause vision problems. This occurs when the tumor is large enough to press on the optic chiasm (the part of the brain where the optic nerves cross). This can lead to a loss of peripheral vision or even blindness.

Other Signs of a Pituitary Tumor

If a tumor is putting pressure on the brain, symptoms may include:

  • headache
  • nausea
  • vomiting (especially in the morning)
  • dizziness
  • confusion
  • runny nose

Please remember that symptoms of a pituitary tumor often resemble those caused by other conditions. If you experience any of these symptoms and have concerns, speak with your doctor.