Pituitary and Adrenal Disorders
The pituitary and adrenal glands are small, but powerful glands in the human body that control many bodily processes, everything from metabolism to blood pressure to sexuality. Various problems can affect these glands leading to all kinds of health conditions, many of which go undiagnosed by primary care physicians. As endocrinologists, the team at Park Avenue Endocrinology & Nutrition has extensive experience in diagnosing problems originating with the pituitary and adrenal glands, and then regulating your hormone levels to get your health back on track.
What is the pituitary gland?
The pituitary gland is a pea-sized body attached to the base of the brain, just below the hypothalamus. The pituitary is part of the endocrine system and produces critical hormones, the chemical substances that control various bodily functions. Because the pituitary controls the secretion of the body’s hormones it is often referred to as the “master gland.” Release of these substances by the pituitary into the bloodstream has a dramatic impact on all kinds of body processes and a person’s overall quality of life.
What hormones are produced by the pituitary gland?
These are some of the major hormones produced by the pituitary gland, along with what health problems caused by deficiencies:
- Growth hormone (GH) — The body’s principal hormone. Regulates body and brain development, bone maturation, metabolism, and is essential for muscle health. Deficiency causes decreased muscle mass, increased body fat, elevated cholesterol, low bone density, and other life-impacting problems.
- Luteinizing Hormone (LH) and Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH) — These hormones control the production of sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), as well as sperm and egg production and release. Deficiency causes decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, irregular menses, decreased body hair, mood swings, hot flashes, and decreased muscle strength.
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) — This hormone stimulates the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones that control metabolic rate, are critical for growth and maturation, and affect just about every organ in the body. Deficiency causes fatigue, weakness, weight gain, memory loss, mood swings, dry skin, and other issues.
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) — This hormone triggers the adrenal glands to release cortisol, the hormone that regulates carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism. Deficiency causes nausea, weakness, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, dizziness, body aches, vomiting, and other digestive problems.
What are the adrenal glands?
The adrenal glands are located on top of the kidneys and make hormones that are essential for various body functions. The adrenal glands make three types of steroid hormones. When they are not producing enough of these steroid hormones, it is called adrenal insufficiency (AI).
Two kinds of adrenal insufficiency
- Primary adrenal insufficiency is also called Addison’s disease. This is a rare condition where the adrenal glands cannot make enough cortisol, and only produce low amounts of aldosterone and androgens. An autoimmune disease usually causes this condition.
- Secondary AI is far more common. It results when the pituitary gland doesn’t signal the adrenal glands to make cortisol. Secondary AI is caused by a problem with the pituitary gland. The pituitary makes ACTH and this signals the adrenal glands to make cortisol. But in secondary AI, the pituitary does not send ACTH to the adrenal glands, so no cortisol is made.
What are the symptoms of adrenal insufficiency?
Symptoms usually build. Often patients don’t know they are suffering from adrenal insufficiency until symptoms worsen to a noticeable degree.
Symptoms of AI are:
- Muscle weakness
- Decreased appetite
- Weight loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Muscle and joint pain
- Low blood pressure
- Symptoms of low blood sugar, such as sweating
- Irregular menstrual periods
How we diagnose adrenal insufficiency and other pituitary problems?
At Park Avenue Endocrinology, our team of endocrinologists has extensive experience diagnosing problems with the pituitary and adrenal glands, problems that can be a mystery to general practitioners. We usually can spot problems through metabolic testing and blood sample testing. We have full lab services in our offices that have sophisticated pituitary, adrenal, thyroid, and autoimmune testing.
What is the treatment for adrenal insufficiency?
Proper management of your hormone levels can return patients to full health, even when dealing with AI. Patients may require daily hormone replacement for life. We will replace the cortisol that your body is not producing with glucocorticoids. We may also use mineralocorticoids if your body is not making aldosterone. From there, we will continually measure your hormone levels to stay ahead of any fluctuations.