What causes hypopituitarism (panhypopituitarism)?

Updated: Jun 09, 2020
  • Author: Bernard Corenblum, MD, FRCPC; Chief Editor: Romesh Khardori, MD, PhD, FACP  more...
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Answer

Causes of pituitary insufficiency include pituitary adenomas or other intrasellar and parasellar tumors, inflammatory and infectious destruction, surgical removal, radiation-induced destruction of pituitary tissue, traumatic brain injury (TBI), subarachnoid hemorrhage, and postpartum pituitary necrosis (Sheehan syndrome). Similar diseases originating in the hypothalamus or pituitary stalk may also result in pituitary insufficiency. Children may have a genetic cause of transcription factor deficiency, resulting in trophic hormone hyposecretion.

Pituitary tumors, or adenomas, are the most common cause of hypopituitarism in adults, although traumatic brain injury as a cause is being more frequently recognized.

Hypopituitarism resulting from pituitary adenomas is due to impaired blood flow to the normal tissue, compression of normal tissue, or interference with the delivery of hypothalamic hormones via the hypothalamus-hypophysial portal system.

In primary pituitary destruction, the anterior pituitary is destroyed, causing a deficiency in some or all pituitary hormones, including prolactin. Disease involving the hypothalamus or pituitary stalk may cause pituitary hormone deficiency with an elevated serum prolactin. This prolactin elevation may suggest the possibility of recovery of function if the offending mass is debulked. Pituitary tumors, or adenomas, can be secretory or nonsecretory. Approximately 30% of all macroadenomas larger than 10 mm produce at least 1 hormone. In such cases, the most common phenomenon is prolactin hypersecretion.

Hypothalamic disease involves destruction of the hypothalamus. This causes a deficiency or loss of hypothalamic regulatory hormone input to the pituitary, which leads to the loss of anterior pituitary hormone secretion, with an elevated serum prolactin level. Loss of antidiuretic hormone (ADH) from hypothalamic disease may have concomitant diabetes insipidus.

Hypersecretion of a pituitary hormone is suggestive of a secretory adenoma. Some pituitary adenomas may result in a deficiency in some pituitary hormones, but with concomitant hyperprolactinemia. Normally, dopamine, produced in the hypothalamus, inhibits prolactin secretion by the anterior pituitary. Compressing the pituitary stalk decreases the inhibitory effect of dopamine and increases prolactin levels.

Longstanding target gland hyposecretion may result in hyperplasia of the relevant pituitary cell secreting the tropic hormone, the level of which would be elevated. With an enlarged pituitary gland from the hyperplasia, a mass is simulated. Although uncommon, this may appear to be a pituitary adenoma, but the target gland is not hyperfunctioning.

Another common intracranial tumor is craniopharyngioma, a squamous cell tumor that arises from remnants of the Rathke pouch. One third of these tumors extend into the sella, while approximately two thirds remain suprasellar.


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