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What is the Sella Turcica?

Mary McMahon
Updated: May 17, 2024

The sella turcica is a structure in the skull which is designed to support the pituitary gland. This important gland at the base of the brain releases a number of different hormones from its snugly positioned spot in the sella turcica. While the shape and size of the sella turcica can vary slightly, depending on the person and the age, it is usually very easy to recognize when one examines a skull, thanks to its distinctive appearance.

This structure is part of the sphenoid bone, an unpaired bone at the base of the skull which is often compared to a bird or butterfly, thanks to its rather unique shape. Parts of the sphenoid make up the orbit of the eye, and are also involved in the structure of the base of the skull, designed to be part of the hard case which protects the brain from trauma. The sella turcica is in the middle of the sphenoid, located just behind the cavity known as the sphenoid sinus, which places it around the middle of the base of the skull.

Viewed from the side, the sella turcica resembles a saddle with an elaborate back and pommel, such as that associated with saddles used by the Turkish; the name literally means “Turkish saddle.” The pituitary gland is designed to fit right inside this saddle. One problem with the positioning of the sella turcica is that if a tumor develops in the pituitary, it has limited places to go, and it can put pressure on neighboring anatomical structures, classically causing vision impairment.

In a condition known as empty sella, the pituitary gland flattens or shrinks, which will be apparent on imaging studies. Pituitary function may be entirely normal despite the changes in the gland, in which case no treatment is required. If the patient's pituitary is impaired, it will be necessary to find the cause of the condition, and possibly to supplement with hormones to normalize the levels of hormones in the body. Empty sella can be associated with issues such as infertility and impotence in some cases.

The sella turcica is only one among many structures in the sphenoid bone. The sphenoid is actually quite the multitasker, with structures which provide room for tendons, various muscles, and nerves which are all integral to the brain and face. Fractures of this bone can pose a significant health risk, depending on the areas of the bone involved.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a WiseGeek researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By strawCake — On Jul 24, 2011

@SZapper - I think with any type of image labeling, having something to associate the image with is helpful.

I'm kind of disturbed that a pituitary gland can actually shrink! However, I am interested to hear that a empty sella can cause infertility. I have a friend who has been trying to get pregnant recently, with little success. If her doctor doesn't find anything at her next visit, I'm going to suggest she have her doctor consider empty sella as a possibility.

By SZapper — On Jul 23, 2011

When I took anatomy and physiology in college, the image of the Turkish saddle helped me remember what the sella turcica looked like. Part of our lab exam was labeling various body parts, and it always tripped me up. Having some sort of association to make with the body part was really helpful.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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