People with acrogmegaly typically have thick lips, coarse facial features, a jutting forehead and jaw, and widely spaced teeth; and large hands and feet. They also often perspire excessively.
A noncancerous tumor in the pituitary gland, known as a pituitary adenoma, is the usual cause of acromegaly. The tumor produces excess GH that in turns raises GH levels in the blood as well as insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) hormone in the liver, both of which promote growth.
Signs & Symptoms
High GH levels due to acromegaly can cause numbness or burning of the hands or feet; Carpal tunnel syndrome; high blood glucose; heart failure or enlarged heart; hypertension; arthritis; goiter; tiredness; and sleep apnea.
Hypopituitarism due to acromegaly can be responsible for menstrual disorders, including irregular bleeding or amenorrhea. It can also cause decreased sexual desire and tiredness.
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When the tumor is large enough to compress surrounding brain structures, people with acromegaly may experience headaches and vision problems, such as tunnel vision and vision loss.
Clinicians check for elevated IGF-1 levels using a blood test. An oral glucose tolerance test can also be used to measure levels of GH in the blood.
Acromegaly treatments are primarily aimed at normalizing GH and IGF-1 levels. If a pituitary tumor is the cause of acromegaly, first-line treatment usually includes surgery to remove the tumor.
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If complete tumor removal is not possible or if a patient is not a candidate for surgery, pituitary irradiation may be used. This treatment may take as long as 10 to 20 years to be fully effective. After achievement of the target levels, however, the effects are permanent.
Drug therapy can be used, but patients will likely need to take these medications for the rest of their lives. Somatostatin analogs and GH receptor antagonists are usually most effective. In some cases, dopamine agonists may work. In other cases, a combination of these medications may be necessary.
Acromegaly is a serious endocrine condition resulting from an excess of growth hormone (GH) in the blood, according to the Hormone Health Network and based on information from the Endocrine Society. GH is released by the pituitary gland and is carried through the rest of the body where it has specific effects.
In children, excess GH is referred to as gigantism. In adults, the condition primarily manifests in middle-aged men and women.
Although the condition is rare, with only about three new cases occurring for every 1 million people each year, acromegaly can significantly impact a person’s quality of life.
This slideshow reviews signs and symptoms of acromegaly as well as diagnosis and treatment of the condition.
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