Pituitary Tumor Complications
Although most pituitary tumors are benign (non-cancerous), some pituitary tumors do cause complications. You may be able to prevent these complications if you recognize the symptoms of a pituitary tumor and get treatment for it early on.
One of the most serious pituitary tumor complications is blindness. This can happen if a tumor puts too much pressure on your optic nerves. These nerves are very close to your pituitary gland. Not everyone who has a pituitary tumor will have vision problems, however. Tumor growth and vision loss usually happen very gradually.
Other potential pituitary tumor complications include:
- diabetes insipidus: This type of diabetes—not to be confused with type 1 or type 2 diabetes, which causes an increase in your blood glucose level—is mostly associated with larger pituitary tumors (called macroadenomas). Diabetes insipidus happens when your pituitary gland and the gland found just above it, the hypothalamus, don't produce enough vasopressin, a hormone that's in charge of maintaining the body's water balance. The most common symptom is constant thirst, which can lead to frequent bathroom stops from drinking so many fluids. This is because without vasopressin, the kidneys aren't able to hold onto water as they should and you get dehydrated, triggering you to be thirsty. This condition can also be a complication of some pituitary tumor treatments.
- permanent hormone deficiency: It's possible for a pituitary tumor to cause a permanent hormone imbalance. If this happens, you may need to take medication to replace the depleted hormone. For example, if your pituitary tumor causes a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) deficiency, you may need to take thyroid hormone replacement to get your thyroid levels back to normal.
- pituitary apoplexy: This is a rare but serious complication that causes sudden bleeding into the pituitary tumor. Pituitary apoplexy typically needs immediate treatment—usually corticosteroids or surgery. Symptoms include a severe headache and vision problems, such as double vision or vision loss. You can also have symptoms of hypopituitarism (when your pituitary gland releases low amounts of certain hormones). Symptoms of hypopituitarism can include excessive thirst (from diabetes insipidus), lightheadedness (from adrenal insufficiency), and cold intolerance (from hypothyroidism).
These are just some of the possible symptoms and complications you may experience if you have a pituitary tumor, but many people with pituitary tumors don't experience any problems.
However, if you have been diagnosed with a pituitary tumor and you notice sudden, unusual changes in your health, you should ask your doctor if they could be related to your pituitary tumor. Getting proper treatment for your pituitary tumor can prevent complications from getting worse.
- Jameson JL, De Groot LJ, eds. Endocrinology: Adult and Pediatric. Volume II. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2010.
- Pituitary tumor page. MedlinePlus Web site. Available at: http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/ency/article/000704.htm. November 15, 2010. Accessed November 30, 2010.
- Pituitary tumors page. Mayo Clinic Web site. Available at: http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/pituitary-tumors/DS00533. June 5, 2010. Accessed November 30, 2010.