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The hypophysis, or pituitary is a small, pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain that functions as "The Master Gland." From its lofty position above the rest of the body it sends signals to the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, ovaries and testes, directing them to produce thyroid hormone, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, and many more. These hormones have dramatic effects on metabolism, blood pressure, sexuality, reproduction, and other vital body functions. In addition, the pituitary gland produces growth hormone for normal development of height and prolactin for milk production.

Origin of hypophysis

1700–10; < Greek hypóphysis outgrowth (from below), equivalent to hypophȳ́(ein) to grow beneath (hypo- hypo- + phȳ́ein to grow, be) + -sis –sis

What does my pituitary gland do?

The pituitary gland is called the 'master gland' as the hormones it produces control so many different processes in the body. It senses the body's needs and sends signals to different organs and glands throughout the body to regulate their function and maintain an appropriate environment. It secretes a variety of hormones into the bloodstream which act as messengers to transmit information from the pituitary gland to distant cells, regulating their activity. For example, the pituitary gland produces prolactin, which acts on the breasts to induce milk production. The pituitary gland also secretes hormones that act on the adrenal glands, thyroid gland, ovaries and testes, which in turn produce other hormones. Through secretion of its hormones, the pituitary gland controls metabolism, growth, sexual maturation, reproduction, blood pressure and many other vital physical functions and processes.

What hormones does my pituitary gland produce?

The anterior pituitary gland produces the following hormones and releases them into the bloodstream:

adrenocorticotropic hormone, which stimulates the adrenal glands to secrete steroid hormones, principally cortisol

growth hormone, which regulates growth, metabolism and body composition

luteinising hormone and follicle stimulating hormone, also known as gonadotrophins. They act on the ovaries or testes to stimulate sex hormone production, and egg and sperm maturity

prolactin, which stimulates milk production

thyroid stimulating hormone, which stimulates the thyroid gland to secrete thyroid hormones.

Each of these hormones is made by a separate type of cell within the pituitary gland, except for follicle stimulating hormone and luteinising hormone, which are made together by the same cell.

Diseases Of The Anterior And Posterior Pituitary

Decreased secretion of anterior and posterior pituitary hormones is known as panhypopituitarism, a serious and sometimes fatal disorder. The term panhypopituitarism is also commonly used when only anterior pituitary hormones are deficient. Patients with panhypopituitarism usually have features of adrenal insufficiency, hypothyroidism, and gonadal failure, along with poor responses to stress. Pituitary vascular insufficiency, autoimmunity, infections, and neoplasms can cause panhypopituitarism. If central diabetes insipidus is present, the lesion generally involves the posterior as well as the anterior pituitary. Isolated deficiencies of one or two pituitary hormones also may occur, often on a heritable basis. Those conditions are rare. Some patients may present with infertility due to LH and FSH deficiency. Proportionate congenital growth failure due to GH deficiency is a predominant type of isolated deficiency.

Pituitary surgery

Many pituitary problems are caused by a benign tumour and an operation is often the best course of action - and surgical methods are continually improving.

We can reassure you that surgery carried out by a specialist neurosurgeon is safe and a relatively straightforward procedure.

Most tumours are removed by making a small incision inside your nostril, or under the upper lip. This surgery is called ‘transsphenoidal surgery’. By using this route, the surgeon can see your pituitary without disturbing the main part of your brain.