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General Medical Questions
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Question : What does empty sella mean on an MRI of the brain?
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The Trusted Source
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Howard LeWine, M.D.

Howard LeWine, M.D., is chief editor of Internet Publishing, Harvard Health Publications. He is a clinical instructor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's Hospital. Dr. LeWine has been a primary care internist and teacher of internal medicine since 1978.

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April 16, 2014
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An empty sella refers to a finding seen on CT scan or MRI of the brain. Normally the pituitary gland completely fills a bony structure in the skull called the sella turcica. When it is partially unfilled, the radiologist reads the finding as an empty sella.

What — if anything — needs to be done if an empty sella is seen on an MRI?

It depends on:

  • Other findings that may or may not be seen by the radiologist, such as a pituitary tumor
  • Whether the person is having any symptoms that might be related to a problem with the pituitary gland

The pituitary gland makes certain hormones that are secreted into the blood stream.

This includes:

  • Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle stimulating hormone (FSH). These hormones stimulate the testes in a man and ovaries in a woman to make sex hormones.
  • Thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH). TSH stimulates the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone.
  • Adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH). ACTH stimulates the adrenal glands to make adrenal hormones, such as epinephrine (adrenalin).

Your doctor may order some simple blood tests to make sure your pituitary gland is functioning normally. If you have no symptoms and no pituitary tumor is seen on the MRI, a cortisol and thyroid blood test may be all you need.

 

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