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The pituitary gland is often called the master gland. It controls many body functions, including growth, metabolism, thyroid function, reproduction and the body's response to stress.
Pea-sized and reddish-gray, the pituitary gland is located in the center of the brain, just above the back of the nose. It is made up of three lobes, each of which produces different hormones. It is attached to the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that affects the pituitary) by nerve fibers.
It controls hormones that directly or indirectly affect most basic bodily activities. (The word hormone comes from Greek meaning to set in motion. A hormone is chemical messenger from one cell or collection of cells to another.)
The hormones controlled by the pituitary gland include:
- Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH), which stimulates the adrenal glands
- Antidiuretic hormone (ADH), which increases absorption of water into the blood by the kidneys
- Follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which stimulates the ovaries in women and the testes in men
- Growth hormone
- Luteinizing hormone (LH), which stimulates the ovaries or testes
- Melanocyte-stimulating hormone, which controls skin coloring
- Oxytocin, which causes the uterus to contract when a baby is being born and helps trigger milk production
- Prolactin, which sets off milk production after giving birth
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which stimulates the thyroid gland
Disorders of the pituitary gland cause many different pituitary conditions with a wide variety of symptoms.