Pituitary anatomy illustration

The Pituitary Gland: Anatomy & Function of the Master Gland

Why is the pituitary gland called the master gland?

The Pituitary Gland is at the anatomical and functional crossroads of the brain, mind and body. Weighing less than one gram and measuring a centimeter in width, the pituitary is often called the “master gland” since it regulates the secretion of the body’s hormones.

These substances when released by the pituitary into the bloodstream have a dramatic and broad range of effects on growth and development, sexuality and reproductive function, metabolism, the response to stress and overall quality of life.

Pituitary gland anatomy and function

This small, bean-shaped gland is located below the brain in the skull base, in an area called the sella turcica. The pituitary gland is regulated by a brain region called the hypothalamus which is connected to the pituitary gland by a thin delicate vascular connection called the pituitary stalk or infundibulum.

The pituitary is divided into a larger anterior region (adenohypophysis) and smaller posterior region (neurohypophysis). Directly above the pituitary are the optic nerves and the optic chiasm as they project to the eyes.

On each side of the pituitary is the cavernous sinus which is a venous channel through which runs the carotid arteries that carry blood to the brain, and important nerves that control eye movements and facial sensation.

Because of the proximity of the pituitary to these major intracranial nerves and blood vessels, and the vital hormonal control the pituitary provides, disorders of the pituitary can cause a wide spectrum of symptoms, both hormonal and neurological.

Pituitary Gland and Related Structures

Hormonal Deficiency At A Glance*


Growth Hormone (GH):

This is the principal hormone that, among many other functions, regulates body and brain development, bone maturation, metabolism and is essential for healthy muscles.

Children: Growth delay

Adults: Decreased muscle mass, increased body fat, elevated cholesterol, low bone density (osteoporosis), impaired psychological well-being,poor quality of life

Recombinant Human Growth Hormone- Given once daily as an injection under the skin

Luteinizing Hormone (Lh) And Follicle Stimulating Hormone (FSH):

These hormones control the production of sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone) as well as sperm and egg maturation and release.

Decreased libido, erectile dysfunction, irregular or absent menses, decreased body hair, decreased muscle strength, hot flashes, mood changes

Men: Testosterone- Given as either topical gel or patch or injections

Women: Estrogen + Progesterone-Given as either topical patch or pills

Adrenocorticotropic Hormone (ACTH):

This hormone triggers the adrenal glands (located above the kidneys) to release the hormone cortisol which in turn, regulates carbohydrate, fat, and protein metabolism and is essential in the stress response.

Poor appetite, nausea, weakness, vomiting, low blood sugar, low blood pressure, dizziness, body aches

Hydrocortisone or Prednisone-Given as daily pills

Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH):

This hormone stimulates the thyroid gland to release thyroid hormones. Thyroid hormones control basal metabolic rate and play an important role in growth and maturation. Thyroid hormones affect almost every organ in the body.

Fatigue, weakness, cold intolerance, dry skin, constipation, heavy/painful menses, weight gain, memory loss, mood disturbance

Levothyroxine: Given as daily pills (some examples include Synthroid or Levoxyl or Levothroid or Armour Thyroid)

Prolactin (PRL):

This hormone stimulates secretion of breast milk.

Inability to lactate

No treatment available

Vasopressin – Also Called Anti-Diuretic Hormone (ADH):

This hormone promotes water reabsorption by the kidneys and is thus essential in water and electrolyte balance.

Increased thirst and frequent urination

DDAVP: Given either as daily pills or nasal spray

*In disease states, the pituitary may under- or over-produce hormones. Decreased pituitary hormone production is called hypopituitarism or pituitary failure. The symptoms and treatment of specific hormonal deficits and described below.

Written and reviewed by:
We are a highly specialized team of medical professionals with extensive neurological and cranial disorder knowledge, expertise and writing experience.
Last updated: June 6, 2022