What is hypopituitarism?
Hypopituitarism, also called an underactive pituitary gland, is a condition that affects the anterior (front) lobe of the pituitary gland - usually resulting in a partial or complete loss of functioning of that lobe. The resulting symptoms depend on which hormones are no longer being produced by the gland. Because the pituitary gland affects the other endocrine organs, effects of hypopituitarism may be gradual, or sudden and dramatic.
In some cases, the production of all of the pituitary hormones decreases or stops, usually due to damage to the entire pituitary gland. This condition is called panhypopituitarism.
What causes hypopituitarism?
Hypopituitarism, in children, is often caused by a benign (non-cancerous) pituitary tumor, an injury, or an infection. However, often no exact cause can be determined.
What are the symptoms of hypopituitarism?
The symptoms of hypopituitarism vary depending on which hormones are insufficiently produced by the pituitary gland. In addition, the symptoms of hypopituitarism in children will vary depending on their age. Each child may also experience symptoms differently. The following are common symptoms associated with reduced production of certain hormones:
- Insufficient growth hormone production - this deficiency can lead to stunted growth and dwarfism in children.
- Insufficient luteinizing hormone production - this deficiency can cause the insufficient production of testosterone by a boy's testes, resulting in undeveloped male secondary sexual characteristics.
The symptoms of hypopituitarism may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
How is hypopituitarism diagnosed?
The symptoms of several underactive glands may help your child's physician diagnose hypopituitarism. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for hypopituitarism may include:
Treatment for hypopituitarism:
- Computed tomography scan (Also called a CT or CAT scan.) - a diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of x-rays and computer technology to produce cross-sectional images (often called slices), both horizontally and vertically, of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general x-rays.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.
- Blood tests (to measure hormone levels)
- Bone x-rays of the hand (to determine bone age)
Specific treatment for hypopituitarism will be determined by your child's physician based on:
- Your child's age, overall health, and medical history.
- Extent of the disease.
- Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies.
- Expectations for the course of the disease.
- Your opinion or preference.
Treatment of hypopituitarism depends on its cause. The goal of treatment is to restore the pituitary gland to normal function, producing normal levels of hormones. Treatment may include specific hormone replacement therapy, surgical tumor removal, and/or radiation therapy.