Acromegaly

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Overview

Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that develops when your pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood.

When you have too much growth hormone, your bones increase in size. In childhood, this leads to increased height and is called gigantism. But in adulthood, a change in height doesn't occur. Instead, the increase in bone size is limited to the bones of your hands, feet and face, and is called acromegaly.

Because acromegaly is uncommon and the physical changes occur slowly over many years, the condition sometimes takes a long time to recognize. Untreated, high levels of growth hormone can affect other parts of the body, in addition to your bones. This can lead to serious — sometimes even life-threatening — health problems. But treatment can reduce your risk of complications and significantly improve your symptoms, including the enlargement of your features.


Symptoms

In adults, acromegaly affects your body’s bones and tissues and causes them to grow in irregular ways.


Adults with acromegaly may experience the following symptoms:

Enlarged hands or feet.

Changes in your face shape, including a more prominent jaw and/or forehead.

Increase in size of your lips, nose and/or tongue.

Excessive sweating or oily skin.

Deepening of your voice.

Other symptoms include:

Headaches.

Joint pain.

Vision changes.

Increase in the number of skin tags.

Numbness in your hands.

Sleep apnea.

Carpal tunnel syndrome or spinal cord issues.

Acromegaly symptoms often start slowly and may be difficult to notice at first. Some people only notice their hands have grown in size when rings they regularly wear feel tight or their shoe size changes, especially the width.

If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s important to talk to your healthcare provider.


Causes

GH is part of a group of hormones that regulate the growth and development of the body. People with acromegaly have too much GH. It accelerates bone growth and organ enlargement. Because of this growth stimulation, the bones and organs of people with acromegaly are much larger than other people’s bones and organs.


GH is made in the brain’s pituitary gland. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), more than 95 percentTrusted Source of people with acromegaly have a benign tumor affecting their pituitary. This tumor is called an adenoma. Adenomas are common. They affect about 17 percentTrusted Source of people. In most people, these tumors don’t cause excess GH, but when they do can result in acromegaly.

Risk factors

Common risk factors in the development of acromegaly are associated with the risk factors of pituitary adenoma development. The pituitary adenoma is the most common cause of acromegaly.


Common risk factors in the development of acromegaly include:

Family history of pituitary adenoma

MacCun Albright syndrome

Lung cancers

Adrenal tumors

Less Common Risk Factors

Less common risk factors in the development of acromegaly include:[1]

Early menopausal females

Surgical induced menopause

Young age females at the first childbirth

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Complications

Acromegaly is treatable in most people. But because symptoms come on slowly, health problems can develop before the disorder is diagnosed and treated.

Health problems can include

type 2 diabetes

high blood pressure NIH external link

heart disease

sleep apnea

arthritis NIH external link

carpal tunnel syndrome

other conditions affecting the bones and muscles

People with acromegaly also have an increased risk for colon polyps, which may develop into colon cancer if not removed.

Some people with acromegaly may have a genetic condition that can lead tumors to develop in different parts of their bodies. Increased GH can cause these other tumors to grow.

Untreated, acromegaly can lead to serious health problems and early death. But when successfully treated, symptoms generally improve and may go away altogether. Life expectancy may return to normal.2

Prevention

 Acromegaly cannot be prevented. Early treatment may prevent the disease from getting worse and help to avoid complications.