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Hypopituitarism is a very rare condition in which the pituitary gland functions improperly, producing reduced levels of one or more of the hormones that it makes. The pituitary gland is a critical part of the endocrine system, as it regulates the thyroid and adrenal glands in addition to the gonads, and it also secretes growth hormones and anti-diuretic hormones. Patients with hypopituitarism can often manage the condition with medications which are designed to compensate for the loss of pituitary function.
A variety of things can cause hypopituitarism. Some people have a congenital defect which causes a malfunction of the pituitary gland, and brain tumors, trauma, infections, and inflammation can also cause this condition to appear. Patients can experience symptoms like high blood pressure, weight changes, frequent urination, fatigue, thirst, nausea, dizziness, intestinal distress, headaches, and infertility as a result of hypopituitarism.
Usually, the gland produces deficient amounts of three or more hormones. When the gland fails entirely, this is known as panhypopituitarism, or complete pituitary failure. If the condition is not addressed, the endocrine system can become very imbalanced, and people may experience serious health problems, including stunted growth, infertility, and organ failure. Some studies have suggested that hypopituitarism may be undiagnosed in many cases of damage to the brain, leading to increased mortality for people who suffer head trauma, strokes, and related problems.
This condition can be diagnosed with the use of blood tests and medical imaging studies to look at the part of the brain where this endocrine gland is located. Treatment usually relies on addressing the underlying cause of the hypopituitarism, and using medications to support the endocrine system. Sometimes, it is possible to correct the hypopituitarism altogether, so that the patient can lead a normal life without needing to take hormone medications. In other cases, the condition may be life-long, in which case the patient will have to make regular visits to an endocrinologist to check on the function of the pituitary gland and the endocrine glands it controls.
Changes in hormone levels can sometimes occur slowly, and the symptoms may be subtle and difficult to pin down. Hypopituitarism can be especially difficult to identify, because the patient can experience a range of different symptoms, and the symptoms can be vague or unclear, especially in the beginning. This is why it is important to discuss all symptoms and observed changes with a doctor, and to be able to identify situations in which the symptoms appear to worsen, as this information could be critically useful in identifying the problem.