Some information sources use “empty sella syndrome” and “empty sella” interchangeably, but they’re slightly different. In short, empty sella is a radiological finding and empty sella syndrome is a condition.
Empty sella is a radiological finding of a flattened pituitary gland. When your pituitary gland shrinks or becomes flattened, your healthcare provider can’t see it on imaging scans. This makes the area of the pituitary gland — the sella turcica — look empty, hence the name “empty sella.”
However, the sella turcica isn’t actually empty. It’s often filled with cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). CSF is fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord. With empty sella, CSF has leaked into the sella turcica, which puts pressure on your pituitary gland. This causes the gland to shrink or flatten.
Often, healthcare providers discover empty sellas by chance (incidentally) on a computed tomography (CT) scan or magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan when people are being evaluated for other reasons.
People can have an empty sella on their imaging results without having any symptoms — their pituitary gland functions as it should.
If someone has an empty sella and their pituitary gland isn’t functioning properly, it’s called empty sella syndrome (ESS). A syndrome is a set of medical signs and symptoms that are correlated with each other and often associated with a particular condition. People with ESS can experience hormonal imbalances, vision changes and frequent headaches.