Doctors diagnose more than 10,000 pituitary tumors every year in the United States. Nearly all of these abnormal growths are benign (noncancerous) pituitary adenomas. On rare occasions, a pituitary tumor is an invasive, cancerous growth called a pituitary carcinoma.
An estimated one in 10 people develop a pituitary adenoma at some point in their lifetime. While many of these growths don’t cause problems and are never even detected, some interfere with pituitary function and hormone balance, giving rise to a range of bothersome symptoms.
Here, fellowship-trained neurosurgeon Jose Valerio, MD, explores the possible mood effects and emotional symptoms of a pituitary tumor, and he explains how he treats these tumors at his practice, which has locations in South Miami, Hialeah, and Weston, Florida.
Situated just behind the top of your nose within a small bony cavity at the base of your brain, your pituitary gland is a vital hormone-regulating organ that provides a direct link between your endocrine system — or the glands and organs throughout your body that produce and release hormones — and your brain.
Known as “the master gland” of the endocrine system, this tiny organ makes hormones that help regulate and control most of the hormones made by your body’s other endocrine glands, including your thyroid, parathyroid, and adrenal glands.
When examining the brain scans of people who’ve died or had brain imaging tests for other medical reasons, researchers have found that as many as 25% of people have a harmless pituitary adenoma that isn’t causing symptoms.
Even though pituitary tumors that remain small, stable, and inactive (non-functioning) often go undetected for life, those that grow larger (macroadenomas) or become active (functional adenomas) can cause major hormonal imbalances that affect a range of body processes:
Like the pituitary gland itself, these abnormal pituitary growths actively produce and release hormones, causing various symptoms depending on the hormones they secrete.
A macroadenoma is a larger pituitary tumor that measures one centimeter or greater. It may cause symptoms related to hormonal imbalances if it's functional (hormone-secreting), puts pressure on the pituitary gland, or both.
Measuring less than a centimeter across, these small pituitary tumors can cause problems if they’re functional, or if they develop in a spot that disrupts pituitary function.
A functional pituitary tumor or disrupted pituitary gland may raise or lower the levels of one or more hormones in your body, causing systemic imbalances that can give rise to physical and mental symptoms alike.
Tumor-related pituitary disorders often develop slowly, causing problems to emerge gradually. It may take a while before you notice symptoms, and when you do, you or your primary care provider may readily mistake them as a sign of something else. This is especially true for four of the emotional effects that commonly occur with a pituitary tumor:
The presence of a pituitary tumor can lead to elevated levels of cortisol, your main stress hormone. Besides placing your body in a perpetual state of “fight or flight” that leaves you feeling tense or distressed most of the time, chronically high cortisol levels can cause rapid weight gain, fatigue, high blood pressure, and other health problems.
Excess cortisol and imbalanced reproductive hormones (estrogen and testosterone) can also give rise to feelings of persistent anxiety, worry, and fear. For some people, these symptoms may manifest as a general and constant feeling of emotional distress. For others, the symptoms may manifest as panic attacks and sleep disturbances.
The pituitary gland dysfunction and hormonal imbalances caused by a problematic tumor can also trigger erratic mood swings, bouts of uncharacteristic anger or rage, easy irritability, and loss of emotional control. Such symptoms may even lead to apparent personality changes and troubling behaviors that weren’t typical in the past.
Depression is a common effect of hormonal imbalances, including those caused by pituitary tumors. Hopelessness, detachment, apathy, low energy, trouble sleeping, memory problems, poor concentration, motivational difficulties, and social withdrawal are common depressive symptoms that can occur because of pituitary dysfunction.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a problematic pituitary tumor, we can help. To learn more about your treatment options — including minimally invasive endoscopic endonasal tumor removal surgery — contact the practice of Jose Valerio, MD, to book an appointment today.