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A Tiny Gland With a Big Effect: Dr. Otten Talks to About Pituitary Gland Tumors

pituitaryIt’s strange to think that an organ no bigger than the size of a pea could have a vital impact on our overall health, but that’s exactly what happens in the case of the pituitary gland.

The pituitary gland is tiny, and yet it controls the output of so many hormones that it’s often known as the “master gland.”

Because this tiny gland is such a powerhouse, tumors in it can wreak havoc on the whole body. Recently Dr. Marc Otten, Director of Columbia Neurosurgery at NewYork-Presbyterian/Lawrence Hospital, talked to about the problems pituitary tumors can cause.

Dr. Otten explained that although most people associate the word “tumor” with cancer, pituitary tumors are usually not cancerous.

But even though they’re not cancer they can cause problems by either growing large enough to compress the pituitary gland itself, or by secreting extra hormones into the body.

When a tumor arises in the pituitary gland it can cause many symptoms, including headaches, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, decreased sex drive, changes in menstrual cycle and even changes in vision. However, those symptoms can also signal other disorders, Dr. Otten explained, making a tumor tricky to diagnose.

A pituitary tumor that secretes extra hormones may be easier for doctors to spot. Dr. Otten explained that normally when a healthy pituitary gland signals the body to produce hormones, the process is managed by a delicate feedback loop.

“It’s like a thermostat turning off the heater when the room reaches a certain temperature,” he said. “When a tumor secretes a particular hormone, the feedback loop is broken. Using the example of the thermostat, the heat stays on, and that causes trouble.”

Once this feedback loop is broken, said Dr. Otten, the extra hormones can cause problems like gigantism, abnormal growth in parts of the body, weight gain, diabetes, high blood pressure and even infertility.

Dr. Otten explained that whenever possible, pituitary tumors are treated with medication that makes the tumor shrink. Sometimes surgery is necessary, but this surgery can often be done endoscopically, using tiny surgical tools that can reach the tumor through the nose and sinuses, eliminating the need for an external incision.

This is not the first time has turned to Dr. Otten for information on health care issues. He previously spoke to the website about brain injury prevention and new treatments for brain tumors.

Learn more about Dr. Otten at his bio page here.

Image credit:©[]/Adobe Images

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