A pituitary tumor is a growth on the pituitary gland. Pituitary tumors do not always cause symptoms, but some may put pressure on the brain and nearby organs, and others may affect hormone balance.

The pituitary gland is a pea-size organ at the base of the brain, just above the back of the nose. It is attached to a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.

Some people refer to the pituitary gland as the master endocrine gland. This is because it makes hormones that affect the function of many body parts and acts as a control center for many other hormone-producing glands, such as the adrenal gland, thyroid gland, testes, and ovaries.

According to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke, a pituitary tumor forms from the growth of atypical cells within the pituitary gland. Most pituitary tumors are noncancerous, grow slowly, and do not spread to other areas of the body. However, they may cause the pituitary gland to make too much or not enough of some hormones, leading to problems throughout the body.

Pituitary tumors that produce hormones are known as functioning tumors, and those that do not make hormones are known as nonfunctioning tumors. Symptoms depend on the tumors’ size and the hormones they affect.

In this article, we will examine the symptoms of pituitary tumors. We will discuss symptoms that relate to each type of tumor and the hormones the tumors could affect. We will also discuss when a person should contact a healthcare professional.

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According to the American Cancer Society, about 3 in 10 pituitary tumors are nonfunctioning. A nonfunctioning pituitary tumor may compress or damage the surrounding areas of the pituitary gland, stopping it from producing one or more hormones.

Not having enough of a particular hormone can affect the gland or the organs it controls, causing symptoms such as:

  • headache
  • loss of body hair
  • partial vision loss
  • disruption of menstrual periods
  • reduced breast milk production when breastfeeding
  • facial hair loss, breast tissue growth, and erectile dysfunction in males
  • lower sex drive
  • slowed growth and sexual development in children

Symptoms of functioning pituitary tumors depend on the extra hormones they produce. Below are some examples of the specific hormone a tumor may affect and the resulting symptoms.


Prolactin is a hormone responsible for breast growth and breast milk production.

Prolactin-producing tumors (prolactinomas) account for about 4 in 10 pituitary tumors. Too much prolactin may cause symptoms such as:

  • irregular or absent menstrual periods
  • infertility
  • breast milk production in people who are not pregnant or nursing
  • lower sex drive
  • erectile dysfunction

Learn more about prolactin levels.

Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH)

ACTH is a hormone that controls the production of cortisol, the body’s main stress hormone. Cortisol helps parts of the brain regulate mood, fear, and motivation.

ACTH-producing tumors (corticotroph adenomas) account for around 1 in 10 pituitary tumors. Too much ACTH may cause Cushing’s syndrome and lead to the following symptoms:

  • weight gain in the upper body
  • increased fat on the upper back and neck
  • diabetes
  • high blood pressure
  • bone thinning, resulting in bones breaking easily
  • muscle weakness
  • pink or purple stretch marks on the abdomen or chest
  • easy bruising
  • hair growth on the face, arms, and upper back
  • anxiety, depression, and irritability

Learn more about ACTH.

Growth hormone

Growth hormone controls the body’s growth and helps regulate metabolism, the process that transforms food into energy.

Pituitary tumors that produce growth hormones (somatotroph adenomas) account for about 2 in 10 pituitary tumors. Too much growth hormone can lead to acromegaly, resulting in symptoms such as:

  • swelling in the hands and feet
  • gradual changes in facial features, such as the brow, jaw, and nose becoming larger and the spacing between teeth widening
  • weakness or tingling in the hands and fingers
  • increased sweating
  • skin changes such as skin tags, oily skin, and skin thickening
  • joint pain
  • fatigue
  • vision problems

Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)

The pituitary gland makes TSH to tell the thyroid how much thyroid hormone to produce. Thyroid hormones help regulate metabolism.

TSH-producing tumors (thyrotroph adenomas) are rare and may cause the thyroid gland to be overactive. This can lead to symptoms such as:

  • weight loss
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • irritability or nervousness
  • trouble sleeping and fatigue
  • muscle weakness
  • shaking
  • increased sweating
  • frequent bowel movements

Learn more about hyperthyroidism.

Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH)

LH and FSH play essential roles in sexual development and functioning. LH- and FSH-producing tumors (gonadotroph adenomas) are rare and may cause symptoms such as:

  • menstrual cycle changes
  • fertility problems
  • pain in the ovaries
  • increased testosterone levels
  • enlarged testicles

However, it is uncommon for these tumors to make enough of these hormones to cause symptoms.

Other symptoms

Other general symptoms of pituitary tumors may include:

  • headache
  • partial vision loss
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • dizziness
  • seizures
  • a runny nose that results from cerebrospinal fluid, which surrounds the brain and spinal cord, leaking into the nose

If a person experiences any symptoms of pituitary tumors, they should consult a healthcare professional, who can help determine the cause of the symptoms.

If a healthcare professional suspects that a person has a pituitary tumor, diagnosis may involve blood tests, urine tests, and imaging studies. Doctors can treat the pituitary tumor to stabilize the levels of hormones and ease the symptoms.

A pituitary tumor is a growth on the pituitary gland that is typically noncancerous and may or may not cause symptoms.

A nonfunctioning tumor does not produce hormones, but it may cause symptoms if it compresses the pituitary gland and prevents it from making one or more hormones.

A functioning tumor may produce hormones and cause symptoms, which may vary depending on the hormones it affects. This type of tumor may affect hormones such as prolactin, ACTH, and growth hormone.

If someone has pituitary tumor symptoms, they should contact a doctor. A doctor can treat the tumor and help relieve the symptoms it may cause.