Hypopituitarism Symptoms & Causes

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We understand that you may have a lot of questions when your child is diagnosed with hypopituitarism. Is it dangerous? Will it affect my child long term? What do we do next? We’ve tried to provide some answers to those questions on this site, and our experts can explain your child’s condition fully.

Growth hormone is a protein produced by the pituitary gland, which is located near the base of the brain and attached to the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that helps to regulate the pituitary gland). If the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus is malformed or damaged, it may mean that the pituitary gland can’t produce some or all of its hormones.

Causes

Hypopituitarism in children may be caused by:

  • a genetic condition that affects the development of either the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that sends signals to the pituitary)
  • pituitary tumors or other tumors that infringe on either the pituitary or the hypothalamus
  • radiation to the head
  • a head injury
  • an infection
  • an autoimmune process

Hypopituitarism can also be idiopathic, meaning that no exact cause can be determined.

Symptoms

The symptoms of hypopituitarism will vary depending on two things: which hormones are lacking, and your child’s age. Symptoms that newborn babies may have include:

  • a small penis
  • jaundice (a condition characterized by yellowing of the skin)
  • evidence of hypoglycemia (low blood sugar), such as sluggishness, jitteriness or seizures
  • excessive amounts of urine

Older infants and children may have these symptoms:

  • short stature and slow growth (children who fall off their growth curve in height)
  • weight gain that’s out of proportion to growth
  • absent or delayed puberty
  • delayed tooth development and delayed tooth eruption
  • increased thirst and urination
  • fatigue

Because the symptoms of hypopituitarism may resemble other conditions or medical problems, you should always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

FAQ

Q: What is hypopituitarism?

A: Hypopituitarism occurs when the anterior (front) lobe of the pituitary gland loses its ability to make hormones, resulting in multiple pituitary hormone deficiencies. Physical symptoms depend on which hormones are no longer being produced by the gland.

Q: What causes hypopituitarism?

A: Hypopituitarism may be caused by many different conditions, including:

  • a genetic condition that affects the development of either the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that sends signals to the pituitary)
  • pituitary tumors or other tumors that infringe on either the pituitary or the hypothalamus
  • radiation to the head
  • a head injury
  • an infection
  • an autoimmune process

Hypopituitarism can also be idiopathic, meaning that no exact cause can be determined.

Q: Is hypopituitarism treatable?

A: Treating hypopituitarism depends both on its cause and on which hormones are missing. The goal of treatment is to restore normal levels of hormones. Treating the underlying condition that’s causing your child’s hypopituitarism often leads to a full recovery.

Since your child’s body is unable to make some or all of these missing hormones, life-long hormone replacement therapy is necessary. Replacement therapy needs to be monitored and adjusted, but the extent of your child’s pituitary deficiency will determine how often he will need to see his doctor.

Q: How safe is treatment?

A: While there are many potential side effects, researchers generally agree that hormone replacement therapy is safe and effective.

Questions to ask your doctor

You and your family are key players in your child’s medical care. It’s important that you share your observations and ideas with your child’s health care provider and that you understand your provider’s recommendations.

If your child is experiencing symptoms of hypopituitarism and you’ve set up an appointment, you probably already have some ideas and questions on your mind. But at the appointment, it can be easy to forget the questions you wanted to ask. It’s often helpful to jot them down ahead of time so that you can leave the appointment feeling like you have the information you need.

If your child is old enough, you may want to suggest that she write down what she wants to ask her health care provider, too.

Some of the questions you may want to ask include:

  • What’s causing my child’s hypopituitarism?
  • How serious is this condition overall?
  • What are the most common treatment options?
  • How long will my child have to be on medication?
  • Are there any side effects or potentially dangerous risks to treatment?
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