What is the pituitary gland?

The pituitary is an important gland in the body and it is often referred to as the 'master gland', because it controls several of the other hormone glands (e.g. adrenals, thyroid).

It is usually about the size of a pea and consists of two parts (often called lobes) - a front part, called the anterior pituitary and a back part, called the posterior pituitary.

The pituitary gland sits in a bony hollow called the pituitary fossa. This is behind the bridge of the nose and below the base of the brain, close to the optic nerves.

It is often considered the most important part of the endocrine system because it produces hormones that control many functions of other endocrine glands.

The anterior pituitary makes several important hormones - growth hormone, puberty hormones (or gonadotrophins), thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH, which stimulates the thyroid gland to make Thyroxine), prolactin and Adrenocorticotrophic Hormone (ACTH, which stimulates the adrenal stress hormone, cortisol). The posterior pituitary makes the fluid balance hormone called anti-diuretic hormone (ADH).

What can go wrong with my pituitary gland?

The most common problem with the pituitary gland occurs when a benign growth (often referred to as 'adenoma' or 'tumour') develops. This can cause the gland to produce excess hormone, or it can block hormone production, or it can be 'non functioning' (hormone production not affected in any way).

Other rarer causes of pituitary disorders can include, for example, traumatic brain injury and pituitary infarction (also known as pituitary apoplexy).

The endocrine system

Endocrine SystemThe endocrine system consists of various glands situated in different parts of the body (as shown above) and each gland produces different hormones which regulate the activity of other organs and tissues in the body. These hormones are released directly into the blood through the relevant gland.