Many pituitary tumors never cause any symptoms. When they do, the symptoms can be attributed to three different causes:
- Growth of the tumor, causing pressure on nearby brain structures
- Damage to the pituitary gland, and a decrease in or loss of the gland’s ability to produce hormones
- Excess hormones produced by a “functioning” tumor
A tumor that grows large enough to press against adjacent brain structures may cause:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vision problems
- Facial pain or numbness
When the tumor disrupts the pituitary’s ability to produce hormones, symptoms may include:
- Slowed growth in children
- Sexual dysfunction and infertility
- Irregular or absent periods
- Weight gain or loss
- Increased thirst and urination
- Low blood pressure/low blood sugar
- Dry skin
When a functioning tumor produces hormones, the extra hormones can cause symptoms based on which hormone is being produced in excess:
- Prolactin-producing pituitary tumors can affect libido, sexual function, fertility.
- Adrenocorticotrophic hormone-producing pituitary tumors can cause depression and anxiety, easy bruising, weight gain, acne, and muscle weakness, high blood sugar and blood pressure.
- Growth hormone-producing pituitary tumors can lead to a condition known as acromegaly, with excess growth of hands, feet, jaw, heart enlargement, high sugar, blood pressure.
- Thyrotropin-producing pituitary tumors can cause palpitations, tremor, weight loss, and insomnia.
Since the symptoms of a pituitary tumor can easily be confused with those of other conditions, an accurate diagnosis is important. (See Diagnosing and Treating a Pituitary Tumor.) Many people with pituitary tumors have them for years because the symptoms come on so slowly that they don’t recognize them — in others, a severe and sudden headache are the first signs of a tumor.
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