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N Viola, C Urbani, M Cosottini, A Abruzzese, L Manetti, G Cosentino, G Marconcini, C Marcocci, F Bogazzi, and I Lupi


Pituitary apoplexy (PA) is a medical emergency with complex diagnosis and management. In this study, we describe a case of PA in a 63-year-old male treated with oral anticoagulant therapy for atrial fibrillation. In the patient, PA manifested itself with asthenia and severe headache not responsive to common analgesics. Despite the finding of a pituitary mass through CT, and in anticipation of the endocrinological evaluation and pituitary MRI, the patient’s clinical condition worsened with an escalation of headache and asthenia associated with deterioration of the visual field and impairment of consciousness level. The emergency assessments revealed an adrenal failure, whereas MRI showed a haemorrhagic pituitary macroadenoma with compression of the optic chiasm. Intravenous fluids repletion and high-dose hydrocortisone were started with a rapid improvement of the patient’s health and visual field abnormalities. Hydrocortisone was gradually reduced to a replacement dose. During the follow-up, panhypopituitarism was documented, and replacement therapies with l-thyroxine and testosterone were introduced. Three months later, a pituitary MRI showed a 50% reduction in the pituitary adenoma volume.

Learning points

  • Pituitary apoplexy (PA) is a medical emergency that can result in haemodynamic instability and abnormalities in the level of consciousness.

  • The management of PA requires a multidisciplinary team that includes endocrinologists, ophthalmologists, neuro-radiologists, and neuro-surgeons.

  • Pituitary MRI with gadolinium is the diagnostic gold standard for PA.

  • PA therapy aims to improve general conditions and treat compression symptoms, especially visual field abnormalities.

  • Adrenocorticotrophic hormone deficiency is a common and severe complication of PA. Thus, all patients with PA must be promptly treated with injective synthetic glucocorticoids (e.g. hydrocortisone 100 mg) and i.v. saline.

  • PA must be taken into consideration in case of sudden headache in patients with a pituitary macroadenoma, especially if other risk factors are recognized.