Acromegaly is a hormonal disease that occurs when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood. When this happens, your bones size increase, including hands, feet and face. Acromegaly is commonly seen in middle-aged adults.
In growing children, excess of growth hormone can cause a condition named gigantism. These children experience irregular bone growth and an abnormal increase in stature.
Because acromegaly is rare and physical changes develop slowly, the condition often isn't recognized immediately sometimes not for years. If not treated timely, it can become life-threatening.
Causes of Acromegaly
The pituitary gland produces a number of hormones. Acromegaly is the result of overproducing growth hormone (GH) over time. GH plays a crucial role in controlling your physical growth.
A tumor is the most common cause of too much growth hormone production in adults:
- Pituitary tumors: In most of the cases, acromegaly is the result of a benign (noncancerous) tumor of the pituitary gland. The tumor releases large amounts of growth hormone, causing many of the symptoms of acromegaly. When the tumor mass presses on the nearby brain tissues, it results in headaches and impaired vision.
- Non-pituitary tumors: In very few patients, tumors in the other parts of the body cause acromegaly. These tumors actually secrete GH. In other cases, the tumors produce a hormone called GH-RH (growth hormone-releasing hormone), which prompts the pituitary to make more GH.
One of the common signs of acromegaly is large feet and hands. People suffering from acromegaly can notice they are unable to put on rings that used to fit and their shoe size has progressively increased. The disease may also lead to a protruding lower jaw and brow, an enlarged nose, thickened lips, and wider spacing between your teeth.
The following are symptoms of acromegaly which may vary from person to person:
Available treatments for acromegaly The main aim of the treatment is to lower GH production and reduce the negative effects of the tumor on the pituitary and surrounding tissues. You may require more than one treatment.
- Surgery: In order to extract the pituitary tumor, the surgeon works through your nose. The procedure is called transsphenoidal surgery. Removing the tumor can normalize GH production and eliminate the pressure on the tissues surrounding your pituitary to relieve associated signs and symptoms. Nature of the procedure is complex and it is important to choose a surgeon experienced in performing this type of surgery.
- Medications: Drugs used to lower the production or block the action of GH include sandostatin, somatuline depot, cabergoline and bromocriptine, somavert (a growth hormone antagonist). Depending on the severity of your condition, the doctor will either prescribe one or a combination of these medicines.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation treatment becomes necessary when tumor cells remain after surgery. Radiation therapy destroys any remaining tumor cells and slowly minimizes GH levels. It may take years for this treatment to noticeably improve acromegaly symptoms.
Even after initial treatment, acromegaly requires periodic monitoring by your doctor to ensure that your pituitary is functioning properly. This follow-up care may be life-long.