The signs and symptoms of hypopituitarism usually develop gradually and get worse over time. They are sometimes subtle and may be overlooked for months or even years. But for some people, signs and symptoms develop suddenly.
Signs and symptoms of hypopituitarism vary from person to person, depending on which pituitary hormones are affected and to what degree. In people who have more than one pituitary hormone deficiency, the second deficiency may increase or, in some cases, hide the symptoms of the first deficiency.
Growth hormone (GH) deficiency
In children, GH deficiency may cause growth problems and short stature. Most adults who have GH deficiency don't have any symptoms, but for some adults it can cause:
- Muscle weakness
- Changes in body fat composition
- Lack of ambition
- Social isolation
Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) deficiency
Deficiency of these hormones, called gonadotropins, affect the reproductive system. In women, the deficiency decreases egg and estrogen production from the ovaries. In men, the deficiency decreases sperm and testosterone production from the testicles. Women and men may experience a lower sex drive, infertility or fatigue. In children and adolescents, delayed puberty is usually the only symptom.
Women may also have symptoms such as:
- Hot flashes
- Irregular or no periods
- Loss of pubic hair
- An inability to produce milk for breast-feeding
Men may also have symptoms such as:
- Erectile dysfunction
- Decreased facial or body hair
- Mood changes
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) deficiency
This hormone controls the thyroid gland. A TSH deficiency leads to low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism). This causes symptoms such as:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Sensitivity to cold or difficulty staying warm
Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) deficiency
This hormone helps your adrenal glands work properly, and helps your body react to stress. Symptoms of ACTH deficiency include:
- Severe fatigue
- Low blood pressure, which may lead to fainting
- Frequent and prolonged infections
- Nausea, vomiting or abdominal pain
Anti-diuretic hormone (ADH) deficiency
This hormone, which is also called vasopressin, helps your body balance its fluid levels. An ADH deficiency can cause a disorder called diabetes insipidus, which can cause:
- Excessive urination
- Extreme thirst
- Electrolyte imbalances
Prolactin is the hormone that tells the body when to start making breast milk. Low levels of prolactin can cause women to have problems making milk for breast-feeding.
When to see a doctor
See your doctor if you develop any of the signs and symptoms associated with hypopituitarism.
Contact your doctor immediately if signs or symptoms of hypopituitarism develop suddenly or are associated with a severe headache, visual disturbances, confusion or a drop in blood pressure. These could be signs and symptoms of sudden destruction of the pituitary gland tissue (pituitary apoplexy), often caused by bleeding into the pituitary gland. Pituitary apoplexy is a medical emergency and requires prompt medical attention.