Acromegaly is a rare condition. It causes excess growth in the bones and soft tissues of the body. Children with the condition can grow to abnormal heights. They may also have an exaggerated bone structure that gives them the appearance of being a giant. Acromegaly mostly affects the arms, legs, and face.
Human Growth Hormone (HGH) regulates growth and development. People with acromegaly have too much HGH. It makes their bones grow too long and get too thick. Because of this growth stimulation, their bones are much larger than other people’s.
HGH is made in the brain’s pituitary gland. In people with acromegaly, the pituitary may be affected by a tumor that causes it to make too much HGH.
Acromegaly can start any time after puberty. However, it occurs more often in middle age. People are not always aware of their condition. Changes to the body may take place slowly over the course of many years.
The symptoms of excessive body growth are numerous. Some common ones are:
- enlarged bones in the face, feet, and hands
- excessive hair growth in women
- enlarged jaw and tongue
- excessive growth spurts (more common in people who had abnormal growth before adolescence)
- weight gain
- swollen and painful joints that limit movement
- spaces between teeth
- splayed fingers and toes
- hoarse voice
- inability to sleep
- muscle weakness
- profuse sweating
- body odor
- enlarged sebaceous glands which produce oils in the skin
- thickened skin and skin tags (non-cancerous growths)
Many people with acromegaly never know they have the condition. However, if doctors suspect acromegaly, they can test for it.
Blood tests for HGH can determine if someone has too much of the hormone. MRIs and X-rays can be used to look for abnormal bone growth. They can also be used to look for the pituitary tumors that cause acromegaly.
Doctors may also test for a protein called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). Levels of IGF-1 can show if there is abnormal growth in the body. IGF-1 testing can also be used to monitor the progress of other hormone treatments.
Acromegaly cannot be prevented. It can be regulated with the right treatments if diagnosed early.
Treatment for acromegaly is based on a person’s age and overall health. Several treatments may be needed.
Medications can be used to regulate or block HGH production.
Surgery can be used to remove tumors from the pituitary gland.
Radiation may be used to destroy large tumors or sections of tumor left after surgery.
Surgery to remove pituitary tumors is usually successful. Treatment may also help keep acromegaly from having long term effects.
Acromegaly may cause high blood pressure, diabetes, and other health problems in people who do not seek treatment.