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by Internet Medical Society

Acromegaly – An Overview

Acromegaly is a hormonal problem caused by the development of a tumor in the pituitary gland. The growth of a tumor (abnormal cell mass) on the small, yet vital, gland causes abnormal production of certain hormones. Over-production of certain hormones in the body causes the size of the bones to increase, resulting it excessively-larger hands and feet, including the face as well. This is mostly seen affecting patients in their middle ages.

If this condition affects children then the excessive production of the growth hormone results in gigantism which exaggerates the size of the bones and causes abnormally tall height of the child as it grows.

As this condition is not common and the physical effects are seen gradually, this condition can be hard to diagnose. If left untreated for long, this may lead to serious complications and other severe illness.

Acromegaly – Signs and Symptoms

The most commonly seen sign of Acromegaly is the abnormal growth of the hands and the feet. This is mostly noticed when the patient is unable to wear a ring or a shoe, which previously fit, anymore.

This condition also causes gradual change in the shape of the face, which includes an exaggerated lower jaw and brow, thicker lips, larger nose and more space between teeth than before.

As this condition progresses gradually and may even take years to develop, signs are not noticed for a long period of time.

The common signs and symptoms of Acromegaly include:

  • Abnormally large hands and feet
  • Thicker facial features
  • Excessive body odor
  • Excessive sweating
  • Muscle weakness
  • Fatigue
  • Deeper voice
  • Vision loss
  • Headaches
  • Irregular menstrual cycle (in women)
  • Pain in joints
  • Limited range of movement in joints
  • Erectile dysfunction (in men)
  • Larger-sized organs (such as spleen, heart, kidneys, etc)
  • Larger chest size

It is advised to consult an experienced doctor/physician as soon as any of these signs and symptoms is noticed.

Acromegaly – Cause

Acromegaly is mainly caused when the tumor in the pituitary gland starts to produce the growth hormone (GH) in abnormally large quantities with time.

The most common causes for over-production of the GH are:

  • Tumors of the Pituitary Gland – A majority of cases of Acromegaly are found to be caused due to benign (non-cancerous) adenoma (tumor) growing in the pituitary glands. This tumor causes the pituitary gland to release the GH in excessive amounts leading to the various signs and symptoms of Acromegaly. Certain symptoms being caused by the tumor are related to the increase in its size which tends to put undue pressure on the surrounding tissue and organs.
  • Non-Pituitary Tumors – In some cases, the Acromegaly condition is often caused as a result of the effects on the body from a tumor not growing in the pituitary gland, such as the pancreas, lungs, adrenal gland, etc.

 

Acromegaly – Treatment

There are several methods for treatment of Acromegaly, but the main aim of these treatment methods is to decrease the level of production of the GH in the body apart from reducing other complications or even their risk in the future.

These are the common and effectively successful Acromegaly treatment methods:

Surgery

Surgical treatment for Acromegaly includes removing the pituitary tumor completely, or as much as possible, using surgical techniques. Mostly the surgeon will use the ‘Transsphenoidal Pituitary Tumor Surgery’ to perform this treatment. It requires the surgeon to gain access to the tumor in the pituitary gland using the nasal passage (nose).

The production level of the GH may get back to normal after removal of the pituitary tumor with pituitary tumor surgery as well as ease the pressure being caused by its large size on the surrounding structure.

 

Medications

Medications are used by doctors mainly to treat the Acromegaly being caused by a smaller-sized tumor in the pituitary gland. The main goal of medications is to lower the excessive production of the GH and bring it back to normal levels.

 

Effective and prompt treatment of Acromegaly is important for success in treating it completely as well as lowering the chances of the condition from recurring in the future. 

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