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Hypopituitarism in Children

What is hypopituitarism?

Hypopituitarism means that the pituitary gland is not working normally. The pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain. It’s the master endocrine gland in the body. The pituitary gland normally releases as many as 8 different hormones. These hormones control growth, metabolism, blood pressure, and other body processes. The effects of hypopituitarism may be slow over time. Or they may be sudden.

What causes hypopituitarism?

In children, hypopituitarism is often caused by one of the below:

  • Pituitary tumor that isn’t cancer (benign)
  • Brain injury
  • Autoimmune problem
  • An infection

The condition may be present at birth (congenital). Often no exact cause can be found.

Who is at risk for hypopituitarism?

A child is at risk for hypopituitarism if he or she has any of these:

  • Pituitary tumor
  • Head injury
  • Infection of the covering of the brain and spinal cord (meningitis)

What are the symptoms of hypopituitarism?

Symptoms vary and depend on which hormones are most affected. Common symptoms include:

  • A small penis in a newborn boy
  • Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
  • Slow growth
  • Short height
  • Late or no sexual maturity
  • Yellow tint to skin and eyes (jaundice) at birth
  • Low appetite
  • Weight loss or weight gain
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Puffy face

The signs of hypopituitarism can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is hypopituitarism diagnosed?

The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history. He or she may also ask about your family’s health history. He or she will give your child a physical exam.

  • Blood tests. These are done to check hormone levels.
  • CT scan. This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan can show bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays.
  • MRI. This test uses a large magnets and a computer to make detailed images of tissues in the body.
  • X-ray. This test uses a small amount of radiation to make images of tissues inside the body. An X-ray may be done of the left hand and wrist. This can estimate your child's bone age. With hypopituitarism, bone age is often younger than calendar age.

How is hypopituitarism treated?

Your child's healthcare provider will consider his or her age, overall health, and other factors when advising treatment. Your child may need to see a pediatric endocrinologist. This is a doctor with extra training in treating children with hormone problems.

Treatment depends on its cause. The goal of treatment is to restore the hormones your child is lacking. Hormone replacement therapy may be done. If a tumor is the cause, surgery or radiation therapy may be done to remove or shrink the tumor.

What are possible complications of hypopituitarism?

Possible complications of the condition depend on which hormones are not being made. The pituitary gland is the master endocrine gland of the body. It helps control growth, metabolism, blood pressure, and other vital body processes. The most common problems for children include slow growth and late sexual development.

Living with hypopituitarism

Hypopituitarism is a life-long condition. But with ongoing treatment a child can have a full, healthy life. Work with your child's healthcare providers to create an ongoing plan to manage your child’s condition.        

When should I call my child's healthcare provider?

Call your child's healthcare provider if you are concerned about your child's growth or development.

Key points about hypopituitarism

  • Hypopituitarism means that the pituitary gland is not working normally. The pituitary gland is the master endocrine gland in the body. It normally releases as many as 8 different hormones. These hormones control growth, metabolism, blood pressure, and other body processes.
  • In children, hypopituitarism is often caused by a pituitary tumor or brain injury. Often no exact cause can be found.
  • Common symptoms include slow growth, short height, and late or no sexual maturity.
  • Hormone replacement therapy may be done. If a tumor is the cause, surgery or radiation therapy may be done to remove or shrink the tumor.
  • Hypopituitarism is a life-long condition. But with ongoing treatment a child can have a full, healthy life.

Next steps

Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s health care provider:
  • Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
  • At the visit, write down the names of new medicines, treatments, or tests, and any new instructions your provider gives you for your child.
  • If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
  • Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.
Online Medical Reviewer: MMI board-certified, academically affiliated clinician
Online Medical Reviewer: Turley, Ray, BSN, MSN
Date Last Reviewed: 9/11/2015
© 2000-2015 The StayWell Company, LLC. 780 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.
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