Acromegaly is a rare disorder caused by an excess of growth hormone (GH). GH controls the growth of soft tissue and bone. Too much GH results in bones and tissues that increase in size.
Young children are still growing. Excess GH can cause a similar health problem called gigantism. This causes dramatic growth in children.
This problem happens when the pituitary gland in the brain makes too much GH. This may happen due to:
- A benign tumor of the gland (most common)
- Cancerous tumors of other organs, such as the pancreas, adrenal glands, or lung
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Acromegaly often starts around 45 years of age. Rarely, family history may increase the risk of this problem.
Symptoms usually start slowly over time.
In children, the bones grow longer and cause soft tissue swelling. If not treated, children can grow to a height of 7 to 8 feet.
Adults with acromegaly may have:
- Abnormally large growth and changes of the:
- Hands—rings no longer fit
- Feet—need a bigger size shoe
- Face—bulging of brow and lower jaw
- Jaw—teeth do not line up correctly when the mouth is closed
- Skin changes, such as:
- Thickened, oily, and sometimes darkened skin
- Severe acne
- Excess sweating and body odor
- A deep voice
- Problems sleeping
- Swelling in the neck
- Fatigue and weakness in the legs and arms
- Joint pain, especially in the jaw
- In women:
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Abnormal production of breast milk
- In men—problems keeping an erection
The doctor will ask about symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done.
Blood tests will be done.
Images may be taken of the body. This can be done with:
The goals of treatment are to reduce GH levels and ease symptoms. Choices are:
- Medicines to lower the level of GH
- Medicine or radiation therapy to reduce the tumor
- Surgery to remove the tumor
Acromegaly cannot be prevented.
- Acromegaly. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/condition/acromegaly.
- Acromegaly. NHS website. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/acromegaly.
- Katznelson, L., Atkinson, J.L., et al; American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists medical guidelines for clinical practice for the diagnosis and treatment of acromegaly- 2011 update. Endocr Pract, 2011; 17 Suppl 4: 1-44.
- James P. Cornell, MD
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