Sue Perkins recent admission that she has had a benign pituitary tumour (prolactinoma) for more than 6 years (www.goodhousekeeping.co.uk) has prompted more than a little interest in the media about this amazing tiny gland. It is situated in the base of the brain, in it’s own niche carved out in the skull and hangs from a stalk from the hypothalamus. Just above it, the optic nerves, which enable us to see, cross over.
The pituitary gland produces tiny amounts of extremely important hormones that influence different glands all over the body that keep us alive and make us develop into normal healthy, procreative adults. These include the thyroid, adrenal glands, sex glands but also the pituitary produces other signalling chemicals that control our fluid balance, blood pressure, lactation and even the contractions of the female womb in child birth!
Prolactinomas, as in Sue’s case, are perfectly benign and slow growing, but produce excess amounts of the hormone prolactin which can cause excess milk production, infertility, lack of periods and even low libido. Just occasionally and because there is no room in the ‘niche’ to expand, the prolactinomas can press on other, hormone and signal producing cells, causing abnormalities in their levels too. Rarely they can even press on the optic nerves above and cause visual field disturbances.
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