The pituitary gland is central to our well-being. It is the master gland of the entire body. It produces (secretes) many hormones that stimulate glands in the body to produce other hormones or to complete certain actions. A gland is an organ that makes hormones, substances which function as messengers and are carried to other parts of your body, where they have an effect or stimulate an action.
The pituitary gland makes many different hormones:
Prolactin - Prolactin stimulates milk production from the breasts after childbirth to enable nursing and can affect sex hormone levels from the ovaries in women and the testes in men.
Growth hormone or GH - GH stimulates growth in childhood and is important for maintaining a healthy body composition and well-being in adults. In adults it is important for maintaining muscle mass as well as bone mass.
Adrenocorticotropin or ACTH - ACTH stimulates production of cortisol by the adrenal glands. Cortisol, a so-called "stress hormone" is vital to survival. It helps maintain blood pressure and blood glucose levels.
Thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH - TSH stimulates the thyroid gland, which regulates the body's metabolism, energy, growth and development, and nervous system activity. This hormone also is vital to your survival.
Antidiuretic hormone or ADH - ADH, also called vasopressin, is stored in the back part of the pituitary gland and regulates water balance. If this hormone is not secreted properly, this can lead to a diabetes insipidus (different from diabetes mellitus which affects glucose) because your kidneys are not working well.
Luteinizing hormone or LH - LH regulates testosterone in men and estrogen in women.
Follicle-stimulating hormone or FSH - FSH promotes sperm production in men and stimulates the ovaries to enable ovulation in women. LH and FSH work together to cause normal function of the ovaries and testes.
The most frequent cause of pituitary disorders is pituitary tumors. The pituitary gland is made of several cell types. Each cell type releases one of the hormones mentioned above. These growths are called pituitary tumors, and they are fairly common in adults. These are not brain tumors and are not a form of cancer. Cancerous tumors of this sort are extremely rare.
Pituitary tumors can interfere with the normal formation and release of hormones, however. In addition, some pituitary tumors make too much of the type of hormone produced by the pituitary cells forming the tumor.
The following bilingual (English and Spanish) patient information handouts are part of the series, "Hormones and You," prepared by The Hormone Foundation, the public education affiliate of The Endocrine Society, which serves as a resource for the public by promoting the prevention, treatment, and cure of hormone-related conditions.