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A tumor in the pituitary gland causes excess secretion of the growth hormone, leading to a condition called acromegaly. We shall see information related to acromegaly in the following paragraphs.

What is Acromegaly?

Acromegaly is a very rare condition that is caused by a pituitary adenoma. This is a tumor of the pituitary gland. This tumor causes the pituitary gland to release excessive growth hormones in middle aged adults.

Acromegaly is from a Greek term ‘akros’, that means extreme or extremities and ‘megalos’ that means large. This condition leads to overgrowth of bones in the hands, feet and face. It leads to severe disfigurement as the external features of the face become more pronounced and large.

If left unchecked, it could lead to many complications as well as premature death.

After the epiphyseal plate closure at puberty, the anterior pituitary gland continues to produce excess growth hormones, it leads to a condition called gigantism in children. Such children have abnormal height and exaggerated bone growth.

Acromegaly is a very rare condition and the physical changes occur gradually. Thus, after many years of the condition becomes noticeable and diagnosed as acromegaly. It is usually the facial features that are a dead giveaway to acromegaly.

Symptoms of acromegaly

Acromegaly is a disfiguring and debilitating growth disorder. The symptoms are observed due to the excessive secretion of growth hormone as well as increase in the insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels.

The characteristic symptoms of acromegaly include:

  • Soft tissue swelling that leads to enlargement of hands, feet, nose, lips and ears
  • Thickening and wax-like appearance of skin
  • Soft tissue swelling of internal organs like heart, kidneys, vocal cords. The vocal cord swelling leads to thick, deep voice of the affected person as well as slowing of speech
  • Enlarged facial features
  • Oily skin
  • Excessive sweating and body odor
  • Spaces between the teeth
  • Splayed fingers and toes
  • Excessive hair growth in women
  • Enlarged jaw and tongue
  • Severe snoring due to obstruction of upper airway
  • Pain in joints leading to limited mobility
  • Impaired vision
  • Headaches
  • Increased chest size
  • Menstrual irregularities
  • Erectile dysfunction in men

Causes of acromegaly

Acromegaly is caused by excessive production of growth hormone. When this hormone is released into the blood stream, it triggers the liver to produce a hormone called insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I). This hormone triggers the growth of bones and soft tissues. Thus, leading to abnormal growth of the soft tissues and bones.

The most common cause of overproduction of growth hormone is:

  • Pituitary tumors that leads to headaches, impaired vision and excessive production of growth hormone.
  • Tumors in other parts of the body like lungs, pancreas, adrenal glands, etc. can lead to production of growth hormone or these tumors release growth hormone releasing hormone (GHRH).

Complications of acromegaly

Acromegaly can lead to severe complications in the patients. These complications include:

Diagnosis of acromegaly

Acromegaly is diagnosed with the help of lab tests as well as imaging tests. The most sensitive lab test for acromegaly is IGF-1. Other tests include TSH, gonadotropic hormones (FSH, LH), adrenocorticotropic hormone (ACTH) and prolactin tests.

An MRI will help in giving a clear view of the pituitary gland, hypothalamus and the location of the tumor.

Treatment of acromegaly

The treatment of acromegaly depends on the size and location of the tumor as well as age and medical history of the patient. In most cases, surgery helps in removal of the pituitary tumors. A transsphenoidal surgery will help in removal of the tumor through the nose. This surgery should only be performed by an experienced surgeon.

Other than surgery, medications can be used to block the action or reduce the production of growth hormones.

These medications include:

  • Somatostatin analogues
  • Dopamine agonists
  • Growth hormone antagonist

Radiation therapy will be given when the doctor suspects some tumor cells remain after the surgery.

Prognosis of acromegaly

The symptoms and complications improve or may resolve completely after successful treatment. The soft tissue swellings and facial features may return to normal with time. Life expectancy remains similar to that of the normal population.

If you find any changes in your overall look and extremities, visit a doctor. It is important to diagnose acromegaly as soon as possible, before the complications turn havoc in your daily life.

Written by: healthplus24.com team

Date last updated: December 10, 2014

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