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YOUR HEALTH When your pituitary gives you problems

PORTLAND, Oregon – Jim Pritchard knows if he doesn’t pay attention, his garden will grow out of control.   The same could have happened with PritchardR...

PORTLAND, Oregon – Jim Pritchard knows if he doesn't pay attention, his garden will grow out of control.   The same could have happened with Pritchard's health.

"If I had let it go too much longer, it could have pressed on the optic nerve and could have affected my eyesight," he recalled.

Pritchard went in for a routine doctor's visit where an enlarged thyroid was detected.

"There are patients that are missed for years and years because they didn't present with very clear symptoms and nobody thought about the possibility of a pituitary tumor," explained endocrinologist Dr. Maria Fleseriu.

Dr. Fleseriu and other specialists at Oregon Health and Science University did spot the tumor squeezing Pritchard's pituitary gland and sent him to surgery.

"That was quite an experience," he said.  "The operation itself, because they go up through the nose, grab hold of that tumor and collapse it."

Pituitary gland tumors are usually benign but they can cause a host of problems that often show up as blurred or double vision,and dizzy spells.   They can develop into Cushing's Disease, or in the case of Pritchard, abnormal growth called acromegaly.

"Older data shows that the mortality can be increased up to four times for Cushing's that's not treated and for acromegaly it's usually doubled," explained Dr. Fleseriu.

With medication, Pritchard hasn't had any significant health issues for the past eight years.

With acromegaly, people often don't notice symptoms until it is brought to their attention by comparing current and old photographs.

Some famous people who had the pituitary disorder include the wrestler Andre the Giant, "Lurch" from "The Addams Family" and "Herman Munster" from "The Munsters", two television comedies from the 1960s.

TREATMENT: While many pituitary gland tumors do not require treatment, others may require a team of medical experts including a neurosurgeon, endocrine system specialist, and a radiation oncologist. Surgical removal of a pituitary tumor usually is necessary if the tumor is pressing on the optic nerves or if the tumor is overproducing certain hormones. The success of surgery depends on the tumor type, its location, its size and whether the tumor has invaded surrounding tissues. There are two surgical techniques to remove the tumor: Endoscopic transnasal transsphenoidal approach, where the tumor is removed through the nose, and transcranial approach (craniotomy), where the tumor is removed through the upper part of the skull via an incision in the scalp. Radiation therapy can be used after surgery if the tumor persists or returns. Medications can sometimes shrink certain types of pituitary gland tumors by blocking excess hormone secretion. If a pituitary tumor or surgery to remove it decreases hormone production, a patient will likely need to take replacement hormones to maintain normal hormone levels. Some people who have radiation treatment also need pituitary hormone replacement.
(Source: http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/pituitary-tumors/diagnosis-treatment/treatment/txc-20157669)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.comor Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.