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Hypopituitarism in Children

What is hypopituitarism?

Hypopituitarism  means that the pituitary gland in the brain is not working properly. The pituitary gland  normally releases as many as 8 different hormones that control growth, metabolism, blood pressure, and other essential body processes. Effects of hypopituitarism may be gradual, or sudden and dramatic.

What causes hypopituitarism?

In children, hypopituitarism is often caused by a benign (noncancerous) pituitary tumor, a brain injury, an autoimmune process, or an infection. Often, no exact cause can be determined.

What are the symptoms of hypopituitarism?

Symptoms vary and depend on the specific pituitary hormone deficiencies. The symptoms of hypopituitarism may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your doctor for a diagnosis. Common symptoms include:

  • Small penis in newborn males

  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)

  • Slow growth or short stature

  • Delayed or absent sexual maturation

  • Prolonged jaundice at birth (yellow orange tint of the skin)

  • Poor appetite

  • Weight loss or weight gain

  • Sensitivity to cold

  • Facial puffiness

How is hypopituitarism diagnosed?

Symptoms of hormone deficiencies may help your child's doctor diagnose hypopituitarism. In addition to a complete medical history and physical exam, diagnostic procedures for hypopituitarism may include:

  • Computed tomography scan (also called a CT or CAT scan). A diagnostic imaging procedure that uses a combination of X-rays and computer technology to produce horizontal, or axial, images (often called slices) of the body. A CT scan shows detailed images of any part of the body, including the bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than general X-rays.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). A diagnostic procedure that uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies, and a computer to produce detailed images of organs and structures within the body.

  • Blood tests. Blood tests are used to measure hormone levels.

  • X-rays of the left hand and wrist.  This uses a small amount of radiation to create pictures of bones and other tissues. An X-ray of the hand can estimate your child's bone age. With hypopituitarism, bone age is often delayed relative to the calendar age.

Treatment for hypopituitarism

Specific treatment for hypopituitarism will be determined by your child's doctor, possibly in consultation with a pediatric endocrinologist, based on:

  • Your child's age, overall health, and medical history

  • Extent of the disease

  • Your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies

  • Expectations for the course of the disease

  • Your opinion or preference

Treatment of hypopituitarism depends on its cause. The goal of treatment is to replace the deficient hormones. Treatment may include specific hormone replacement therapy. If a tumor is the underlying cause, treatment may involve surgery to remove the tumor and/or radiation therapy.