Rathke cleft cysts are congenital deformities, meaning that they occur while a fetus is growing in the womb. A Rathke cleft cyst develops from the Rathke pouch, which ultimately becomes the pituitary gland.
Rathke cleft cysts are fairly rare. They make up less than 1 percent of all tissue masses that start in the brain.
Because Rathke cleft cysts only rarely cause symptoms or problems during childhood, they are not usually diagnosed in kids. Rather, they are most often found in adults during an MRI scan to diagnose another problem, or even after death, if an autopsy is being performed.
Rathke cleft cysts typically become large, and they can cause various problems with the pituitary gland's normal processes as the cysts grow along with the child into adulthood.
Rathke cleft cysts can cause symptoms at different stages of life:
Lack of growth or late puberty in children
Problems with vision
Irregular or absent menstruation
Production and leaking of milk from the breasts that is not related to pregnancy or childbirth
Changes in personality or behavior, including confusion
Low blood pressure
Digestive issues, such as constipation
Feelings of drowsiness or fatigue
Low or no libido
Feelings of extreme thirst
Unusually dry skin
Difficulty regulating body temperature
Rathke cleft cysts are typically diagnosed with an MRI or CT imaging of the brain or pituitary gland. Rathke cleft cysts, along with other pituitary gland lesions called craniopharyngiomas, are sometimes first misdiagnosed as pituitary gland tumors.
The most common treatment for a Rathke cleft cyst is surgery to remove it. This can usually be done without damaging the pituitary gland or causing other complications that could get in the way of healthy pituitary function. The pituitary gland may be reached through the nasal sinuses or, occasionally, the skull. When the cyst cannot be removed through surgery, radiation therapy may be used to destroy it.
Rathke cleft cysts are the result of a birth defect that occurs for an unknown reason. There is no known way to prevent these cysts from forming.
Without treatment, Rathke cleft cysts can continue to cause problems with pituitary gland function and issues with weight, hormones, and vision. Proper diagnosis and treatment can alleviate symptoms and restore healthy pituitary function.
Although they are not cancerous, Rathke cleft cysts can be mistaken for tumors and do require the appropriate treatment if they interfere with the normal functioning of the pituitary gland.