Presenting Symptoms of Pituitary Apoplexy

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The classical term “pituitary apoplexy” (PA) describes a clinical syndrome usually characterized by abrupt onset of headache accompanied by neurologic and/or endocrinologic deterioration due to sudden expansion of a mass within the sella turcica as a result of hemorrhage or infarction within a pituitary tumor and adjacent pituitary gland. PA is a medical emergency and a difficult diagnosis to establish. Thus this article reviews the presenting symptoms of PA patients to help clinicians recognize or at least suspect this critical condition early on. PA commonly occurs in the setting of a preexisting adenoma, and several patients are unaware of its existence prior to the onset of apoplexy symptoms, which are mainly of a neurologic, ophthalmologic, and endocrinologic nature. Neurologic symptoms include sudden-onset severe headache and other symptoms of subarachnoid hemorrhage, symptoms from compression of the cavernous sinus contents, nausea/vomiting, impaired consciousness, and symptoms of meningeal irritation. Ophthalmologic symptoms include visual field defects, visual loss, diplopia, and ophthalmoplegia. Endocrinologic disturbances include pituitary adenoma symptoms, cortisol deficiency, panhypopituitarism, diabetes insipidus, and syndrome of inappropriate secretion of antidiuretic hormone. Magnetic resonance imaging is the imaging method of choice to aid the PA diagnosis. Its differential diagnoses include cerebrovascular accidents, infectious diseases, and other causes of endocrinologic imbalance. Transsphenoidal surgery is the treatment of choice, especially if there are associated visual abnormalities and ophthalmoplegia. Clinicians should be aware of the presenting symptoms because early diagnosis may reduce the morbidity and mortality of this neurosurgical emergency.

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