What does the Pituitary Gland do

What is it?

The pituitary gland is part of the body’s system for regulating functions such as temperature, heart rate, and blood pressure.  It is sometimes called the “master gland” because it plays a role in regulating the function of other glands within the body.

Where is it?

The pituitary gland sits beneath the brain, just behind the bridge of your nose. It is very small, about the size of a garden pea, but it does an important job.

How does it work?

It assists the brain in maintaining a balanced state within the body. Throughout the day, as your activity levels change, and when you get hungry or thirsty, levels of chemicals called hormones in your blood vary.  Part of your brain called the hypothalamus monitors the levels of these hormones continuously, without you having to think about it. 

When it detects a change, the hypothalamus communicates with the pituitary gland by releasing its own hormone signals. The pituitary responds by releasing hormones. These hormone messengers travel in your blood around the body, telling various parts of the body, including other hormone-releasing glands, to make adjustments, so that your body is always kept within safe operating parameters.

The pituitary gland is in two parts, anterior (towards the front) and posterior (towards the back).  Each part is able to produce different hormones when stimulated by the hypothalamus.  The anterior pituitary produces a wide range of hormones, which regulate a range of body functions from growth to reproduction.  The posterior pituitary produces only two hormones, one regulating the operation of the kidneys and the other released following childbirth, relating to the uterus and production of breast milk.

What Can Go Wrong with the Function of the Pituitary Gland?

The most common problems with the pituitary gland are caused by development of a tumour or growth. Depending upon where the tumour grows and how big, it may affect the secretion of hormones, decreasing production. Symptoms of this condition include:

Tiredness, lack of energy, muscle weakness, sexual dysfunction, weight gain, sensitivity to cold, constipation, dry skin, pale appearance, low blood pressure and dizziness on standing, headaches and visual disturbance.

These symptoms relate to the loss of various hormones normally produced by the pituitary gland.  Loss of  production of only one hormone would not produce all of these symptoms.

Another cause of problems with the function of the pituitary gland is injury.  Receiving a blow to the face or head can damage the area around the pituitary gland and affect its functioning. It is possible that the effects of a head injury on the functioning of the pituitary gland might not be apparent for some time after the accident, and it is therefore important to take seriously any unusual symptoms experienced in the days and weeks after such an injury. Such symptoms might include:

mild headaches, feeling sick, problems concentrating, poor memory, irritability, tiredness, problems sleeping, lack of appetite, sexual and fertility difficulties, depression, an increased thirst and excessive urinating.

Where Can I Find Out More About the Pituitary Gland?

The Pituitary Foundation  http://www.pituitary.org.uk/

The Pituitary Society  http://www.pituitarysociety.org/public/overview/

You and Your Hormones  http://www.yourhormones.info/glands/pituitary_gland.aspx

Wikipedia  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pituitary_gland

This information is intended to be of interest to a general audience, and should not be relied upon in place of proper diagnosis and treatment by a qualified medical professional.