Empty Sella Syndrome and Its Impact on Disability

Empty sella syndrome disability is a rare disorder that involves the sella turcica, a small bone at the brain's base that protects the pituitary gland. This condition can cause partial or complete loss of pituitary function, leading to symptoms such as headaches, low sex drive, and intellectual disability.

Empty-sella syndrome disability can also result from intracranial encephalitis, a brain inflammation that damages the pituitary gland. Although Empty Sella syndrome disability is uncommon, it is more frequently detected due to improved radiologic technology.

Empty Sella Syndrome Disability
Empty Sella Syndrome and Its Impact on Disability

Anatomy and Physiology of the Sella Turcica

The sella turcica, which translates to "Turkish chair" in Latin, is a saddle-shaped depression located within the sphenoid bone of the skull. 

This bony structure provides a protective enclosure for the pituitary gland, a small, pea-sized gland situated at the base of the brain, just below the hypothalamus. 

The pituitary gland, also known as the hypophysis, is an integral part of the endocrine system and is responsible for producing and releasing various hormones that regulate critical bodily functions and overall health.

The sella turcica's unique saddle-like shape not only houses the pituitary gland but also serves to protect it. In the context of Empty Sella Syndrome (ESS), the term "empty sella" refers to the appearance of the sella turcica in imaging studies, such as MRI, where it seems empty. 

This occurs when the pituitary gland shrinks or becomes flattened, often filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) instead of the normal pituitary tissue. Despite the name, the sella is not genuinely empty; instead, the change in the appearance of the pituitary gland leads to the "empty" designation.

The pituitary gland produces hormones that influence various other glands and hormones within the body, including those related to the adrenal glands and growth. Therefore, the sella turcica's role in safeguarding the pituitary gland is crucial for maintaining the delicate balance of the body's endocrine system.

Types of Empty Sella Syndrome

Empty Sella Syndrome is divided into two main types: primary and secondary.

Primary Empty Sella Syndrome occurs when the sella turcica enlarges, and the pituitary gland appears flattened within this cavity. This flattening can make the sella appear empty when viewed on imaging tests such as MRI or CT scans. 

The exact cause of primary ESS is not well understood, but it has been linked to a defect in the diaphragm sellae, the small membrane covering the pituitary gland. This defect can allow cerebrospinal fluid to press on the gland, causing it to flatten. 

Primary ESS is more common in women, particularly those who are obese and have high blood pressure, and it has also been associated with fluid buildup in the brain.

Secondary Empty Sella Syndrome occurs as a result of another condition that affects the pituitary gland, leading to its shrinkage or removal. 

Causes of secondary ESS include genetic mutations, injury, radiation therapy, or surgery that impacts the pituitary gland. In some cases, a pituitary tumor that has shrunk without treatment can also lead to secondary ESS.

Both types of Empty Sella Syndrome can be asymptomatic, meaning they do not cause any symptoms. 

However, if symptoms do occur, they may include headaches, impotence in men, low sex drive, and menstrual irregularities in women. The pituitary gland's function is usually expected in primary ESS, but in secondary ESS, pituitary function can be affected due to the underlying cause.

Causes and Risk Factors of Empty Sella Syndrome

There are two types of Empty Sella Syndrome: primary and secondary, each with different causes and risk factors.

Primary Empty Sella Syndrome is often idiopathic, meaning its exact cause is unknown. However, it's believed to involve a defect in the sella diaphragm, which covers the pituitary gland. 

This defect can allow cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) to leak into the sella turcica, exerting pressure on the pituitary gland and causing it to flatten against the sella walls. 

Primary Empty Sella Syndrome is more common in women, particularly those who are obese and have high blood pressure.

Secondary Empty Sella Syndrome is typically caused by factors leading to the removal or shrinkage of the pituitary gland. These factors can include injury or trauma to the head, pituitary surgery, radiation therapy, or certain conditions such as Sheehan syndrome. 

Secondary Empty Sella Syndrome can also occur in a condition called pseudotumor cerebri, which mainly affects young, obese women and causes the CSF to be under higher pressure.

It's important to note that while Empty Sella Syndrome can be associated with various symptoms due to hormonal imbalances, many individuals with it may not exhibit any symptoms and may only be diagnosed incidentally during imaging tests for other conditions.

Symptoms and Complications of Empty Sella Syndrome

Empty sella syndrome (ESS) is when the sella turcica, a bony structure that houses the pituitary gland, appears partially or utterly open on brain imaging. 

Empty sella syndrome (ESS) can cause pituitary deficiency and endocrine disorders, affecting the body's hormone production and regulation. 

Some of the common symptoms of empty Sella syndrome include headaches, vision problems, fatigue, and sexual dysfunction. 

Empty sella syndrome can also lead to panhypopituitarism, a severe condition that requires lifelong treatment and can cause long-term disability. 

Empty sella syndrome can be diagnosed by medical tests such as MRI, CT scan, and blood tests

Empty sella syndrome can be caused by various factors, such as pituitary tumors, surgery, radiation, infection, or trauma. 

Empty sella syndrome can also be associated with rare genetic diseases, such as Weiss-Kruszka syndrome, Kaufman oculocerebrofacial syndrome, and Xq duplication syndrome. 

These syndromes can cause additional neurological and developmental problems, such as intellectual disability, growth delay, and facial abnormalities. 

Empty sella syndrome is a complex and heterogeneous condition that requires individualized care and management. 

Empty sella syndrome can affect patients' and their families' quality of life and well-being. It may qualify for long-term disability benefits depending on the severity and impact of the condition.

Diagnosis of Empty Sella Syndrome

Diagnosing Empty Sella Syndrome (ESS) involves a comprehensive approach that includes a detailed medical history, a physical examination, and imaging tests.

Medical History: The healthcare provider will ask about the patient's health history, including any symptoms they may be experiencing, their past medical conditions, and any treatments or surgeries they've undergone. This information helps the provider determine if any factors have led to the development of Empty Sella Syndrome.

Physical Examination: The physical exam allows the healthcare provider to check for physical signs of Empty Sella Syndrome. This might include checking for signs of hormonal imbalances, such as changes in body weight, skin condition, or menstrual irregularities in women.

Imaging Tests: Imaging tests are crucial in diagnosing ESS. These tests, which include computerized tomography (CT) scans and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), help visualize the sella turcica and assess the condition of the pituitary gland. In Empty Sella Syndrome, the sella turcica appears empty or partially empty on these imaging tests. 

This is because the pituitary gland, which usually resides in the sella turcica, is flattened or compressed, often due to an influx of cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) into the sella turcica. 

The pituitary gland may appear reduced in size or absent, leading to the "empty" appearance of the sella turcica. However, the sella turcica is partially empty; it's often filled with CSF.

It's important to note that many individuals with ESS may not exhibit any symptoms and may only be diagnosed incidentally for other conditions during imaging tests. 

Therefore, a diagnosis of Empty Sella Syndrome is often unexpected and can lead to further investigations to assess the function of the pituitary gland and determine the appropriate treatment approach. 

Treatment Options for Empty Sella Syndrome

Empty Sella Syndrome (ESS) is a medical condition that affects the pituitary gland in the brain, often leading to hormonal imbalances, headaches, and vision problems. 

The treatment for Empty Sella Syndrome is typically symptomatic and supportive, focusing on managing the symptoms and improving the patient's quality of life. This may involve hormone replacement therapy if there is a pituitary deficiency due to empty sella or lifestyle modifications. 

In some cases, Empty Sella Syndrome can lead to disability if it results in significant hormonal imbalances or neuropsychiatric symptoms. Individuals with disabling symptoms may be eligible for long-term disability benefits, but the application process can be complex and requires substantial medical evidence. 

It's essential to submit undeniable medical proof that validates your diagnosis and demonstrates the functional impairments arising from Empty Sella Syndrome. This could range from limitations in standing, walking, lifting, and executing other job-related tasks to cognitive impairments. 

Your treating providers can evaluate your functional impairments and their impact on your ability to work. In rare cases, Empty Sella Syndrome can be associated with other conditions, such as Weiss-Kruszka syndrome, a rare genetic disorder. 

As with any medical condition, a proper diagnosis is crucial for determining the appropriate treatment approach and managing the condition effectively.

Living with Empty Sella Syndrome

Living with Empty Sella Syndrome (ESS) can be challenging, as it can cause a range of symptoms that can impact daily life. 

These symptoms may include hormonal imbalances, headaches, vision problems, fatigue, and difficulty concentrating. 

In some cases, ESS can also lead to more severe complications, such as pituitary gland dysfunction or neurological problems.

For individuals with Empty Sella Syndrome, managing the condition and its symptoms is essential for maintaining a good quality of life. 

This may involve taking medications to replace deficient hormones, undergoing regular medical check-ups to monitor hormone levels and overall health, and making lifestyle changes to reduce the risk of complications.

Emotional support is also crucial for individuals living with ESS. Joining support groups or seeking counseling can provide a sense of community and validation, helping individuals cope with the challenges of living with a chronic condition.

Despite the challenges, many individuals with Empty Sella Syndrome can live full and active lives. With proper medical care, lifestyle modifications, and emotional support, it is possible to manage the symptoms of Empty Sella Syndrome and maintain a good quality of life. 

Empty Sella Syndrome and Disability

Empty-sella syndrome (ESS) can lead to disability if it causes significant hormonal deficiencies or neurological symptoms that impair daily functioning.

While many with Empty Sella syndrome are asymptomatic, some experience headaches, vision changes, fatigue, mood disorders, and cognitive dysfunction that disrupt work capacity.

To qualify for disability benefits, substantial evidence must demonstrate that Empty Sella syndrome renders one unable to perform job duties or typical daily activities. Documentation should include clinical findings, imaging results, and evaluations of functional limitations.

Proper documentation and legal guidance are crucial for obtaining coverage and support for individuals disabled by Empty Sella syndrome.


While ESS is a rare condition, it can have a significant impact on an individual's life and, in some cases, lead to disability. Understanding the condition, its potential complications, and the available support resources is crucial for those living with ESS and their caregivers.

Frequently Asked Questions

Does empty sella syndrome qualify for disability?

Empty Sella Syndrome might qualify for disability benefits with well-documented evidence of impairments hindering substantial gainful activity for at least 12 months. Approval isn't guaranteed, as the evaluation considers symptom severity, treatment response, and job performance ability. Consulting a disability attorney ensures the completeness of medical records and eases the complex application process. 

Is empty sella syndrome serious?

While empty-sleep syndrome can potentially lead to complications, it is not typically considered a serious condition, especially in its primary form. However, any symptoms of abnormal pituitary function should be reported to a healthcare provider for evaluation and potential treatment.

Can empty sella cause blindness?

The rare condition known as empty sella syndrome, caused by an underdeveloped or damaged pituitary gland in the sella turcica, does not directly result in blindness despite affecting critical hormones, though patients may develop related intellectual disabilities or visual issues if the disorder causes further endocrine system complications over time.

Can you lose weight with empty sella syndrome?

Weight loss is not a typical symptom of empty sella syndrome, a rare condition caused by an underdeveloped or damaged pituitary gland in the sella turcica. However, it can occur in some patients due to hormonal imbalances, particularly if the disorder affects the thyroid gland's function, leading to decreased metabolism and potential weight loss.

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