Saturday, May 7, 2011

Pituitary Hormones and Mental Health

Depression, anxiety, loss of libido, sexual dysfunction, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, lethargy … these are all mental health conditions that are common in people with a pituitary disorder. And, did you know that one in five people are currently living with a pituitary disorder? That’s 60 million people in the United States alone!

So, what is the pituitary gland and what is a pituitary disorder? The pituitary gland is called the "Master Gland” of the endocrine system because it controls the functions of all the other endocrine glands. From its lofty position above the rest of the body, it sends signals to the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, ovaries and testes, directing them to produce thyroid hormone, cortisol, estrogen, testosterone, and many more. These hormones have dramatic effects on metabolism, blood pressure, sexuality, reproduction, and other vital body functions. This "Master Gland" role makes the pituitary gland quite important, despite its small size.

It is largely unknown that problems with the pituitary gland can cause not only physical problems, but also mental health issues. Physicians have been trained that pituitary tumors are rare, and mental health professionals have virtually no training in their identification and treatment. At least, until recently.

Pituitary and other hormonal disorders encompass a wide range of symptoms that may appear months or years prior to proper medical diagnosis. Pituitary patients are often the first to recognize that something may be wrong when they find their sexual and/or mental health deteriorating. Symptoms commonly thought of as purely psychological in nature, but common in pituitary disorders, include major depression, suicide, anxiety, weight gain/loss, sexual dysfunction, anger and rage, cognitive disturbances, and more. Other symptoms can have a mental health component. For example, the effects of infertility or loss of libido can impact a couple’s relationship and stability. Lethargy, apathy, and mental slowness all wreak havoc with the ability to function fully in work, family and social environments. Menstrual irregularities and pain can cause losses in work or school productivity. Amenorrhea (absence of menses), especially when accompanied with weight loss, can be mistakenly diagnosed as anorexia nervosa.

Families operate as a unit, one that strives to maintain its stability. When a family member begins to demonstrate behavior outside of the usual and familiar, as with a pituitary disorder, this disturbs the status quo and is a threat to the whole family, not just the patient with the illness. Whether it is the onset of sudden and angry outbursts, loss of sexual interest, withdrawal and isolation, or memory or mood changes, these all affect the integrity and mental health of all members of a family. The impact of pituitary and hormonal dysfunction on one’s life and on the entire family cannot be overstated.

“Every day I hear from patients who talk about their marriages crumbling, families shattered, jobs lost, all because of delays in discovering a pituitary tumor and a lack of understanding about the connection between our physical and emotional health,” said Linda M. Rio, M.A., MFT, director of Professional and Public Education at the Pituitary Network Association (PNA). “The loss to families and overall quality of life is saddening and certainly not rare.”

“Obtaining a complete and correct diagnosis, as well as appropriate treatment, is imperative not only to improve the quality of a pituitary patient’s life, but often, to save his or her life,” adds Robert Knutzen, Chairman and CEO of the PNA.

Based in Thousand Oaks, but international in its reach, the PNA works to improve the diagnosis and treatment of pituitary and hormonal disorders by educating patients and health care professionals. To learn more about pituitary and hormonal disorders, please visit the PNA’s website at or contact them at (805) 499-9973.

This story is contributed by a member of the Ventura community and is neither endorsed nor affiliated with Ventura County Star