What Does Life Look Like Without a Pituitary Gland?
Yes, you can live without a pituitary gland. You’ll need to take hormone replacement medications for the rest of your life to make up for the hormones the pituitary usually makes.
Your pituitary gland is part of your endocrine system, which makes hormones that help your body function. Some scientists call it the “master gland” because it affects so many other glands and organs.
The hormones the pituitary gland makes play a role in:
- controlling blood sugar, blood pressure, and temperature
- water regulation
- ovulation and the menstrual cycle
- breast milk production
- labor and delivery
- pain relief
- human bonding
- fight-or-flight response
There are a few scenarios in which your pituitary gland can stop working. In some cases, you may even need to remove your pituitary gland.
In this article, we examine these scenarios and how you can live well without a pituitary gland.
If you have a tumor causing significant health problems, affecting your vision, or not responding to other treatments, a healthcare professional may recommend surgery to remove your pituitary gland. This is called hypophysectomy.
Your tumor may be pressing on your optic nerve, causing vision problems, or placing pressure on nearby brain structures. It may have caused your body to make too much or too little of certain hormones, leading to conditions such as:
- Cushing syndrome, which involves too much of the stress hormone cortisol
- acromegaly, which involves too much growth hormone as an adult
- gigantism, which involves too much growth hormone as a child
To remove your pituitary gland, a surgeon operates through your nasal cavity (transsphenoidal hypophysectomy) or a small opening in your skull (craniotomy). A craniotomy is less common.
Even if you still have your pituitary gland, some conditions can cause it to stop working.
Some people have reduced pituitary function, called hypopituitarism. This means the gland can’t make some of the hormones it usually produces. But it’s rare to lose almost all pituitary function. When that happens, doctors call it panhypopituitarism. Pan is a prefix that means “all.”
Panhypopituitarism can be due to problems affecting your pituitary gland or hypothalamus. The hypothalamus is a hormone-producing part of the brain that works closely with the pituitary gland. Potential causes include:
Symptoms of panhypopituitarism include:
Your pituitary gland makes the hormones you need to survive. Without a working pituitary gland, you need to get those hormones in a different way.
A healthcare professional can prescribe hormone replacement therapy. It involves medications that give your body what it needs to regulate itself.
If you’ve had surgery to remove a pituitary tumor, a healthcare professional will regularly check your hormone levels after surgery. These hormone tests can help a clinician determine whether to adjust your medications to keep you feeling your best.
They may also encourage you to wear a medical bracelet in case of an emergency, so healthcare workers know you have a medical condition.
Whether you’ve had surgery to remove your pituitary gland or have panhypopituitarism, it’s important to take your medication as prescribed and get regular checkups.
Because your pituitary gland will no longer make the necessary hormones, you will need hormone replacement therapy. The hormones you need to replace include:
You may develop a condition called diabetes insipidus after your surgery. It happens when your kidneys can’t hold on to water because you don’t have enough of the hormone vasopressin. It’s essential to treat it, but it’s usually temporary.
As long as you manage your condition by taking your medication and getting regular checkups, you can expect the same life expectancy as if you had a functioning pituitary gland.
Problems with your pituitary gland may cause it to lose most or even all of its function. Some pituitary tumors may require that you remove the gland entirely.
You can live without your pituitary gland. It won’t affect your life expectancy if you take your hormone replacement medication as prescribed and routinely check in with a healthcare professional.
Last medically reviewed on April 4, 2023