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Pituitary Tumors

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Symptoms of a Pituitary Tumor

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:

  • Headaches
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Vision problems
  • Facial pain or numbness

When the tumor disrupts the pituitary’s ability to produce hormones, symptoms may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Slowed growth in children
  • Sexual dysfunction and infertility
  • Weight gain or loss
  • Increased thirst and urination

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 presure.
  • 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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Reviewed by: Georgiana Dobri, M.D.
Last reviewed/last updated: December 2020