What is hypopituitarism?

Hypopituitarism, also called an underactive pituitary gland, is a condition that affects the anterior (front) lobe of the pituitary gland - usually resulting in a partial or complete loss of functioning of that lobe. The resulting symptoms depend on which hormones are no longer being produced by the gland.

In some cases, the production of all of the pituitary hormones decreases or stops, usually due to damage to the entire pituitary gland. This condition is called panhypopituitarism.

What causes hypopituitarism?

Hypopituitarism, in children, is often caused by a pituitary tumor (both benign and malignant), an acute head injury, or an infection. Children can also be born with hypopituitarism due to abnormalities in the structure of gland or genetic mutations that prevent its normal development. Occasionally, no exact cause can be determined.

What are the symptoms of hypopituitarism?

The symptoms of hypopituitarism vary depending on which hormones are insufficiently produced by the pituitary gland. Please see the symptoms listed in the "Anterior Pituitary Disorders" for specifics. In addition, the symptoms of hypopituitarism in children will vary depending on their age. Each child may also experience symptoms differently. The symptoms of hypopituitarism may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is hypopituitarism diagnosed?

The symptoms of several underactive glands may help your child's physician diagnose hypopituitarism. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for hypopituitarism may include:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) - a diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radio frequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body. MRI can be used to closely look at the structure of the pituitary gland.
  • Blood tests (to measure hormone levels).
  • Bone x-rays of the hand (to determine bone age).

Treatment for hypopituitarism:

Specific treatment for hypopituitarism will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history.
  • Extent of the disease.
  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies.
  • Expectations for the course of the disease.
  • Your opinion or preference.
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