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Pituitary gland problems have many symptoms

November 4, 2010 12:00:00 AM PDT
Researchers believe there may be millions of people with unexplained symptoms who are being misdiagnosed. Doctors say problems with the brain's pituitary gland are more common than most people think.Many of us suffer from fatigue, headaches, infertility and weight gain. Most of us would never think those symptoms could possibly add up to a brain tumor.

Pituitary disorders may affect as many as 20 percent of the population. And the signs are often quite difficult to discern.

We all have trouble seeing as we age, but within a few months Tom Lobl's vision practically deteriorated sharply.

"I was seeing double vision. Letters were disappearing, and I was having trouble reading signs on the street when I was driving," said Lobl.

An eye doctor prescribed glasses, but it just kept getting worse. Then ...

"An MRI found the tumor," said Lobl. A non-cancerous brain tumor growing on his pituitary gland. It so big it was squishing the gland into a sliver.

"There are probably many people that are walking around that have abnormalities in the pituitary gland that we don't know about," said Dr. Daniel Kelly.

Neurosurgeon Dr. Daniel Kelly at Saint John's Health Center says Lobl probably had this tumor for 10 years. Often the symptoms are misdiagnosed.

"Many of the men we see that have low libido from low testosterone they may simply be treated with Viagra because no one bothered to test the testosterone level," said Kelly.

The pituitary gland may weigh less than a gram but doctors call it the "master gland" because it controls so many aspects of life. It's affects metabolism, reproductive function and your response to stress.

If left untreated: "They can have what's called an 'adrenal crisis.' Because the pituitary stops making the critical stress hormone," said Kelly.

A blood test can tell if something is going on with the pituitary gland. Patients can be treated with medication, but Lobl needed surgery.

Dr. Kelly enters the pituitary cavity through the nose. Using endoscopic tools he can remove the tumor without any scarring or cutting through key structures in the skull.

Within a few days, Lobl was up and about. Now, 15 months after surgery, he feels like a new person.

"I'm back to my normal activities and strength," said Lobl. "I feel a lot younger than I did. The tumor made me feel old."

Endonasal surgery to remove a pituitary tumor does have potential complications such as stroke and blood clots. But Dr. Kelly says the chances are less than 1 percent.

Kids can present with pituitary tumors, but it mostly occurs in adults. The age range is usually between 20 and 80 years old.

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