Acromegaly: Overview

Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that occurs when the pituitary gland produces a high amount of hormone in the body during adulthood. Acromegaly affects the bones and tissues, causing them to develop irregular patterns. Surgery, medication, and radiation therapy are the most common therapies for acromegaly.

When people have an excess of growth hormone, the size of bones increases. This causes increased height in children and is known as gigantism. A change in height does not occur in adulthood. Instead, acromegaly refers to increased bone growth limited to the hands, feet, and facial bones.

Because acromegaly is rare and physical changes emerge slowly over several years, the condition can be difficult to detect. High levels of growth hormone, if left untreated, can impact other parts of the body with bones. This can result in serious, even life-threatening, health complications. However, treatment can lower the chance of problems and significantly improve the symptoms, including facial enlargement.


Symptoms

Enlarged hands and feet are common symptoms of acromegaly. One may notice, for example, that individuals can no longer put on rings that used to fit and that the shoe size has gradually increased. Acromegaly may also cause gradual changes in the form of the face, such as an enlarged nose, protruding lower jaw and brow bone, thickened lips, and wider teeth spacing.

Because acromegaly progresses slowly, early symptoms may not be noticeable for years. Sometimes people only detect physical changes by comparing old images to recent ones. Overall, acromegaly signs and symptoms differ between individuals and may include any of the following:


When to See a Doctor?

If anyone experiences signs and symptoms of acromegaly, contact the doctor for an examination. Acromegaly usually develops slowly, and even the family members may notice the gradual physical changes caused by this condition at first. However, early diagnosis is essential so that people can begin receiving adequate care. If untreated, acromegaly can cause major health complications.


Causes

A pituitary adenoma, which causes the pituitary gland to release excessive growth hormone, is the most common cause of acromegaly (GH). A small gland called the pituitary is found at the base of the brain and behind the nose bridge. It is responsible for the production of GH as well as a variety of other hormones. GH is important in the regulation of physical growth.The most common factor resulting in excessive GH production in adults is a tumour:

  • Pituitary tumors : The majority of acromegaly cases are caused by a noncancerous (benign) pituitary gland tumor (adenoma). Some acromegaly symptoms, such as headaches and blurred vision, are caused by the tumor pressing on nearby brain tissues.
  • Non Pituitary tumors : Tumors in other body parts, such as the pancreas or lungs, cause acromegaly in a few people. These tumors can release GH at times. In some cases, tumors release a growth hormone-releasing hormone (GH-RH), which tells the pituitary gland to produce more GH..

Complications

Acromegaly can cause serious health complications if left untreated. Complications may include:


Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about the medical history and perform a physical exam. Then he or she may suggest the following steps:

  • IGF-1 measurement : The doctor will take a blood sample after the individual has fasted overnight to determine the IGF-1 level in the blood. A high IGF-1 level indicates acromegaly.
  • Growth hormone suppression test : This is the most accurate means of confirming an acromegaly diagnosis. During this test, the GH blood level is measured before and after people consume a sugar preparation (glucose). The glucose drink usually causes the GH level to fall in those who do not have acromegaly. However, if people have acromegaly, the GH level will tend to remain elevated.
  • Imaging : The doctor may recommend to have an imaging test, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), that would help to detect the position and size of a tumor on the pituitary gland. If no pituitary tumors are found, the doctor may conduct additional imaging tests to screen for non pituitary tumors.

Treatment

Acromegaly treatment varies from person to person. The position and size of the tumor, the severity of the symptoms, and the patient's age and overall health will all impact the treatment plan.

Treatment options for lowering the GH and IGF-1 levels often involve surgery or radiation to remove or reduce the size of the tumor causing the symptoms and medicines to help restore the hormone levels. If individuals have acromegaly and health problems, the doctor may offer additional treatments to help manage the complications.


Acromegaly Care at Medicover Hospitals

We have the best team of endocrinologists and neurosurgeons at Medicover hospitals, who provide the most comprehensive treatment and care. Our diagnostic department is equipped with cutting-edge technology and equipment to perform the tests needed for acromegaly diagnosis and treatment planning. Our medical professionals work closely with patients to evaluate their health and treatment progress in order to achieve a faster recovery.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What is acromegaly?

Acromegaly is a rare hormonal disorder caused by the excessive production of growth hormone (GH) after the growth plates have closed. It leads to abnormal growth of bones and tissues, especially in the hands, feet, and face.

2. What causes acromegaly?

The majority of cases are caused by noncancerous tumors of the pituitary gland, known as pituitary adenomas. These tumors produce excessive growth hormone.

3. What are the symptoms of acromegaly?

Common symptoms include enlarged hands and feet, facial changes (protruding jaw, enlarged nose, and lips), joint pain, thickened skin, enlarged organs, and other complications due to excess GH.

4. How is acromegaly diagnosed?

Diagnosis involves a combination of blood tests to measure GH and insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1) levels, as well as imaging studies like MRI to locate pituitary tumors.

5. Is acromegaly treatable?

Yes, acromegaly is treatable. Treatment aims to reduce excessive GH production, shrink or remove tumors, and manage symptoms.

6. What are the treatment options for acromegaly?

Treatment options include surgery to remove the tumor, medications to regulate hormone levels, and in some cases, radiation therapy.

7. Can acromegaly be cured?

While complete cure is rare, early diagnosis and appropriate treatment can effectively control the condition, relieve symptoms, and prevent complications.

8. How can acromegaly affect health?

If left untreated, acromegaly can lead to serious health issues such as cardiovascular problems, joint pain, diabetes, sleep apnea, and other complications.

9. Can acromegaly affect children?

Acromegaly in children is extremely rare and is usually caused by genetic conditions that lead to excessive GH production during growth years.

10. What kind of doctor treats acromegaly?

Endocrinologists, doctors specializing in hormonal disorders, typically diagnose and manage acromegaly. In some cases, neurosurgeons and radiation oncologists may also be involved in treatment.

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