Pituitary gland is a small gland that has the same size like a pea and weighs just 0.5gms, but it is an integral part of the body’s endocrinal system. The gland is also called the master gland because of its importance in various key functions of the body. It is a fundamental part of the system that ensures regulation of our body’s functions.
Where Is the Pituitary Gland?
The pituitary gland is located in sella turcica of the sphenoid bone which is present at the base of the brain. It is a growth off the bottom of hypothalamus, a part of brain which is responsible for controlling the gland. There are two major lobes of the pituitary gland. One is the anterior pituitary lobe that is joined to the brain by small blood vessels and responsible for controlling among others sexual maturation, reproduction and overall body development. The second main lobe is the posterior pituitary gland which is joined to the hypothalamus through pituitary stalk which is a small tube. The important hormones produced by the lobe are oxytocin and antidiuretic.
Watch the video below to clearly understand where it is located:
What Does the Pituitary Gland Do?
The pituitary gland is body’s linchpin mainly because hormones released from the gland control a wide ranging body functions from growth to metabolism, and from pain relief to the function of sex organs. The hormones released from the gland reach remote organs through the bloodstream to regulate functionality. And the gland secretes different hormones according to the requirement of the body after receiving trigger signals from different cells as well as other glands.
What Hormones Does the Pituitary Gland Produce?
As referred initially, the two main lobes of the gland are anterior pituitary lobe and the posterior pituitary lobe. The pituitary gland function is different in these two lobes. Some of the hormones are produced by the posterior lobe, but the main bulk of the hormones are produced by the anterior pituitary lobe.
1. Hormones Produced by the Anterior Pituitary Gland
- Adrenocorticotrophic hormone (ACTH). The main target of ACTH is the adrenal gland. This hormone released by pituitary gland causes cortisol to be produced by the adrenal gland. Cortisol in turn helps the body in maintaining blood sugar and blood pressure. Moreover, since cortisol is anti-inflammatory, it also helps the body in dealing with bleeding and fasting.
- Follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). In men, FCH targets testes, causing them to produce sperm. In women, the hormone targets ovaries, producing egg for fertilization apart from increasing the secretion of hormone estrogen.
- Growth hormone (GH). The growth hormone is mainly responsible in children for height. It also maintains muscles and fats in the body.
- Luteinizing hormone (LH). The hormone stimulates ovaries in women to ovulate and causes testes in men to produce testosterone.
- Melanocyte stimulating hormone (MSH). The hormone’s exact role in humans is unknown, but it causes skin to become dark when too much is produced.
- Prolactin. This hormone in combination with other hormones triggers production of milk by breasts. The hormone is also present in non-pregnant women and men, but the reason is not well understood.
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). The hormone prompts the thyroid to produce hormones that are responsible for maintaining heart rate and temperature.
2. Hormones Produced by the Posterior Pituitary Gland
- Antidiuretic hormone (ADH). The hormone prevents dehydration by decreasing the production of urine. It is also known to increase blood pressure in humans.
- Oxytocin. Oxytocin stimulates the breasts to produce milk and also ensures the contraction of womb (uterus) during childbirth.
The pituitary gland produces hormones in bursts, fluctuating between periods of activity and relative idleness. The cycle repeats every few hours. Production of some of the hormones like prolactin, ACTH and growth hormones follow a natural 24-hour cycle. The amount of secretion of these hormones becomes the highest just before we wake up from sleep and is the lowest just when we are about to sleep. Hormones which control reproduction, especially in women, like follicle stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, vary over the menstrual cycle. Other hormones are produced in periodically and each period is determined by the unique factors depending on the hormone.
What Can Go Wrong with the Pituitary Gland?
A benign growth in the pituitary gland is the most common problem that occurs with the gland. The benign growth is called a tumor or an adenoma. This tumor is not a brain tumor because the gland is not part of the brain though it is located very close to it. Such a tumor in the pituitary gland is called an endocrine tumor. The adenoma can cause the gland to behave erratically, increasing production of certain hormones and blocking the production of others. Sometimes, the benign growth causes no change in hormone secretion or its pattern. Since a pituitary gland tumor can impact hormone production, it can cause serious problems in a number of important human body functions.
Following are some of the manifestations of pituitary gland tumor which people will encounter.
- Sudden changes in mood.
- Inability to reproduce or have children.
- Erectile dysfunction, a sexual dysfunction in men. Impotence causes men to not have or keep the erection of penis during sexual activity.
- Pain in the head.
- Problem in vision.
- Reduction in secretion of milk by breasts.
- Menstrual cycle variation in women.
- Tendency to get easily annoyed, bad tempered.
- A problem in which limbs and extremes become large and jaw and skull become too thick because of too much production of the growth hormone. The condition is also called acromegaly.
- Becoming exhausted for no reason.
- Diabetes, high blood pressure, weight gain and getting bruised easily all at once due to an increased secretion of ACTH. This condition is called Cushing’s syndrome.
If any of these symptoms match your condition, you must consult your physician immediately to ensure timely detection and medical care.
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