The pituitary gland

Mother and infant

The pituitary gland is central to our well-being. It is the master gland of the entire body, producing many hormones that in turn stimulate other glands to secrete additional 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 the body, where they have an effect or stimulate an action.

Some of the hormones made by the pituitary gland:

  • Prolactin stimulates milk production from the breasts after childbirth to enable nursing; it can affect sex hormone levels in the ovaries (women) and the testes (men).
  • Growth hormone (GH) stimulates growth in childhood and is important for maintaining a healthy body composition, muscle mass and bone mass in adults.
  • Adrenocorticotropin (ACTH) stimulates the 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 (TSH) stimulates the thyroid gland, which regulates the body's metabolism, energy, nervous system activity and general growth and development.
  • Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), also called vasopressin, is stored in the back part of the pituitary gland and regulates water balance. Failure to properly secrete this hormone can lead to diabetes insipidus (different from diabetes mellitus, which affects glucose), because your kidneys are not working well.
  • Luteinizing hormone (LH) regulates testosterone in men and estrogen in women.
  • Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) promotes sperm production in men and stimulates the ovaries to enable ovulation in women. LH and FSH work together to regulate normal function of the ovaries and testes.

Pituitary tumors are the most frequent cause of pituitary-related disorders. 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 kind are extremely rare. However, pituitary tumors can interfere with the normal formation and release of hormones.

Last modified: Jul 15, 2013
Handouts

These handouts contain helpful explanations about various pituitary gland-related disorders, diagnosis and treatment.

• Acromegaly
(English & Spanish)  

• Cushing's Syndrome
(English & Spanish) 

• Pituitary Tumors
(English & Spanish) 

• Turner Syndrome
(English & Spanish) 

• Hirsutism

• Color Blindness Test

• Somatuline Injections

ID=x10157