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The Symptoms of a Pituitary Tumor — It’s More Complicated Than You Might Think

The symptoms of a pituitary tumor run the gamut from serious problems to minor annoyances—and for some people, there are no symptoms at all.

The symptoms of a pituitary tumor — man in PJs holding head with one hand on edge of the bed.

Before we jump into a discussion of the symptoms of a pituitary tumor (basically, what to look for if you suspect you have one), I want to briefly discuss the difference between having a tumor and having cancer.

Although many people use the terms interchangeably, they don’t mean the same thing. A tumor is just an abnormal clump of cells that either grew in a way it shouldn’t have or that should have died and didn’t (or both).

Cancer, on the other hand, is when your tissue is dividing abnormally (usually, in an out-of-control way) and is threatening or invading other tissues.

Many cancers begin as tumors, but not all tumors are cancerous. Tumors generally come in two forms—benign and malignant.

The meaning of these two words describe how the tumors act: “benign” means “harmless,” while “malignant” means “harmful,” though this is a generalization and not always accurate.

Looked at another way, the difference between a benign tumor and a malignant tumor is the difference between a clump of cells that stays put in a specific area of your body and a clump of cells that sends cancerous cells to other parts of your body, cells that then start to grow into new tumors.

This is called metastasis: the spread of the cancer to other areas of the body.

As you might expect, there are different types of pituitary tumors. Some are benign, and some are malignant, but all are made out of cells that originated in your pituitary gland or the surrounding tissues.

Pituitary Tumors Come in Many Forms, and Some of Those Forms Cause Symptoms

The symptoms of a pituitary tumor depend a great deal on the type of pituitary tumor that you have. These tumors come in several forms:

  • Benign
  • Invasive
  • Malignant

For pituitary tumors, benign means that the tumors grow slowly and do not spread, invasive means that the tumor spreads only into the tissues that surround the tumor (into other areas of your skull, basically), and malignant means that the tumor is cancerous and can spread to other areas of your body beyond your skull.

Fortunately, malignant pituitary tumors are rather uncommon.

Now, here’s where things get strange. Because a tumor is simply an abnormal growth of cells, that usually means that a tumor exhibits many of the same properties of whatever cells it grew out of in the first place.

So a tumor that grows out of a bone is often a bony growth, while a tumor that grows out of your skin is, in many cases, just a big lump of skin.

But a tumor that grows out of your pituitary gland is still made of the same cells as your pituitary gland. This means the symptoms of a pituitary tumor are directly related to the type of hormone-producing pituitary gland cells from which the tumor originally grew.

Which means the tumor may have the capacity to create hormones and spread them into your bloodstream.

The Symptoms of a Pituitary Tumor

If you have a pituitary tumor, no matter if it’s benign, invasive, or malignant, that tumor may have the capacity to function, basically, as a second pituitary gland.

If it does have the ability to function, it can make just about any hormone that your pituitary gland can make. If it doesn’t have the ability to function, it can still cause the same types of symptoms that any tumor might cause.

The symptoms of a pituitary tumor are determined largely by the ability of the tumor to function. If your body is producing too much of one type of hormone or another, you’re going to experience symptoms related to the excess hormone that’s being produced.

The way the tumor is growing also affects your symptoms, as the tumor can not only cause pain or symptoms because it’s pressing on certain areas of your head or skull, but it can also cause your pituitary gland to act abnormally.

Here’s a few different symptoms that you may experience:

  • A headache
  • Erectile dysfunction (for men)
  • Libido problems or lack of a sex drive
  • Lactation (for women, and in extreme cases, men)
  • Vision problems or loss (at the periphery and usually both sides)
  • Mood problems (anxiety, irritability, or depression)
  • Snoring, apnea, insomnia, or other sleep problems
  • Seizures, dizziness, confusion, nausea, or even vomiting
  • Runny nose
  • Hair loss or hair growth
  • Abnormal weight gain, or weight gain in the face, neck, and upper body (while extremities stay small or thin)

Now, there are quite a few other symptoms of a pituitary tumor that can pop up, depending on the type of tumor that you have and the hormone or hormones that it’s creating.

Beyond this point, you need to speak to a medical provider to see what’s going on.

There are a range of tests that can be done to determine you’re truly experiencing the symptoms of a pituitary tumor (or the symptoms of something else), but many of these symptoms apply to a wide variety of diseases, and it takes a trained expert to really be able to determine, as accurately as possible, what the cause is.

The Symptoms of a Pituitary Tumor — Learn More About How Pituitary Tumors Work

If you really want to dive into pituitary tumors and how they work, you can read this comprehensive article on pituitary tumors. I’ve given a very simplified summary of some of the information that you’ll find here, but there are few articles out there that go into the same depth as the one I’ve linked to above.

I’ve also written another article about how pituitary tumors work, but it’s pretty technical and not for everyone.

However, if you really want to dig into this issue and learn more about how pituitary tumors and testosterone (and other hormones) interact, click the button to read the article.

Learn More About Pituitary Tumors and Hormones

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(Augie) Juan Augustine Galindo Jr. MPAS, PA-C

(Augie) Juan Augustine Galindo Jr. MPAS, PA-C started his career in healthcare as a fireman/paramedic in West Texas where he served on the Midland Fire Department from 1998-2004.   He became interested in testosterone treatment after seeing how hormone replacement doctors helped those suffering from low testosterone.   After graduating from the Texas Tech Health Sciences Center Physician Assistant Program, he moved to DFW where he currently lives with his wife and three children.

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