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    Pituitary infarction

    Pituitary apoplexy

    Pituitary infarction is the death of an area of tissue in the pituitary gland, a small gland joined to the hypothalamus (part of the brain). The pituitary produces many of the hormones that control essential body processes.

    Causes

    Pituitary infarction is most commonly caused by bleeding due to a noncancerous tumor of the pituitary. When this bleeding occurs in a woman during orright after childbirth, it is called Sheehan syndrome.

    Risk factors for pituitary infarction include:

    • Bleeding disorders
    • Diabetes
    • Head injury
    • Radiation to the pituitary gland
    • Use of a breathing machine

    However, in most cases, the cause is not clear.

    Symptoms

    Pituitary infarction usually has a short period of symptoms (acute), but it can be life-threatening.

    Symptoms usually include:

    • Severe headache
    • Paralysis of the eye muscles, causing double vision (ophthalmoplegia)
    • Low blood pressure, nausea, and vomiting from acute adrenal insufficiency

    Less commonly, pituitary dysfunction may appear more slowly. In Sheehan syndrome, for example, the first symptom may be a failure to produce milk caused by a lack of the hormone prolactin.

    Over time, problems with other pituitary hormones may develop, causing symptoms of the following conditions:

    • Growth hormone deficiency
      • Fatigue
      • Increased fat in the abdomen
      • Lack of energy
    • Hypoadrenalism (if not already present or treated)
      • Inability to deal with physical stress
      • Light-headedness
      • Nausea
    • Hypogonadism
      • Absent periods (amenorrhea) in women
      • Sexual dysfunction and loss of muscle mass in men
    • Hypothyroidism
      • Cold intolerance
      • Constipation
      • Depressed mood
      • Dry skin
      • Fatigue
      • Hair or skin changes
      • Hoarseness
      • Menstrual changes
      • Mental slowing
      • Weight gain

    When the posterior pituitary is involved (rare), symptoms may include:

    • Failure of the uterus to contract as needed to give birth to a baby (in women)
    • Failure to produce breast milk (in women)
    • Uncontrolled urination

    Exams and Tests

    Signs of acute pituitary infarction may include:

    • Low blood pressure
    • Visual field defects

    Signs of chronic pituitary insufficiency include:

    • Growth hormone deficiency
      • Loss of muscle mass
      • Problems with fat metabolism (dyslipidemia)
    • Hypoadrenalism
      • Low blood pressure
      • Poor response to stress and infection
    • Hypothyroidism
      • Delayed reflexes

    Tests may include:

    • Eye exams
    • MRI or CT scan

    Blood tests will be done to check levels of:

    • ACTH
    • Cortisol
    • FSH
    • Growth hormone
    • LH
    • Prolactin
    • TSH
    • Somatomedin C (IGF-1)

    Treatment

    Treatment for acute infarction may require surgery to relieve pressure on the pituitary and improve vision symptoms. Severe cases need emergency surgery.

    Immediate treatment with adrenal replacement hormones (glucocorticoids) is essential. Other hormones will be replaced, including:

    • Sex hormones (estrogen/testosterone)
    • Thyroid hormone

    Evidence is also growing for the need to replace growth hormone.

    Outlook (Prognosis)

    Acute pituitary infarction can be life-threatening. The outlook is good for people who have chronic deficiency that is diagnosed and treated.

    Possible Complications

    Complications of untreated pituitary infarction can include:

    • Adrenal crisis
    • Vision loss

    If other missing hormones are not replaced, you may develop problems related to hypothyroidism and hypogonadism.

    When to Contact a Medical Professional

    Call your health care provider if you have any symptoms of chronic pituitary insufficiency.

    Go to the emergency room or call the local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of acute pituitary infarction, including:

    • Eye weakness
    • Headache
    • Low blood pressure (which can cause fainting)
    • Nausea
    • Vomiting

    Be especially concerned if you develop these symptoms and you have already been diagnosed with a pituitary tumor.

    References

    Melmed S, Kleinberg D. Pituitary masses and tumors. In: Kronenberg HM, Melmed S, Polonsky KS, Larsen PR. Williams Textbook of Endocrinology. 12th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2011:chap 9.

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          Tests for Pituitary infarction

            Review Date: 12/11/2011

            Reviewed By: Nancy J. Rennert, MD, Chief of Endocrinology & Diabetes, Norwalk Hospital, Associate Clinical Professor of Medicine, Yale University School of Medicine, New Haven, CT. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

            The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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