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home / medterms medical dictionary a-z list /pituitary gland definition

Medical Definition of Pituitary gland

Pituitary gland: The main endocrine gland. It is a small
structure in the head. It is called the master gland because it
produces hormones that control other glands and many body functions
including growth. The pituitary consists of the anterior and
posterior pituitary.

The anterior pituitary is the front portion of the
pituitary. Hormones secreted by it influence growth, sexual
development, skin pigmentation, thyroid function, and adrenocortical
function. These influences are exerted through the effects of
pituitary hormones on other endocrine glands except for growth
hormone which acts directly on cells.

The effects of underfunction of the anterior pituitary include growth retardation (dwarfism) in childhood and a decrease in all
other endocrine gland functions normally under the control of the
anterior pituitary (except the parathyroid glands). The results of
overfunction of the anterior pituitary include overgrowth (gigantism)
in children and a condition called acromegaly in adults.

The posterior pituitary is the back portion of the
pituitary. It secretes the hormone oxytocin which increases uterine
contractions and antidiuretic hormone (ADH) which increases
reabsorption of water by the tubules of the kidney. Underproduction
of ADH results in a disorder called diabetes insipidus characterized
by inability to concentrate the urine and, consequently, excess
urination leading potentially to dehydration . The urine is “insipid”
(overly dilute).

Illustration of the Pituitary Gland

Last Editorial Review: 5/13/2016

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