What Is Acromegaly?
Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder of the endocrine system in which the pituitary glands produce too many growth hormones. It affects the bones, soft tissues, and internal organs.
When this condition occurs in adults, it is called acromegaly. When it occurs in children, it is called gigantism. Acromegaly and gigantism are the same condition. However, the symptoms vary.
A person suffering from acromegaly will experience symptoms related to growth hormones. In children, the disorder results in unusual height.
Common acromegaly symptoms include:
- Large facial features
- Oily skin
- Large hands
- Large feet
- Thickened skin
- Deep voice
- Erectile dysfunction
- Stiff joints
- Reduced sex drive
- Skin tags
Acromegaly is usually caused by tumors on the pituitary glands. When the tumors grow, they press against and damage the glands. As a result, the pituitary glands malfunction by overproducing growth hormones.
Other potential acromegaly causes:
- Non-Pituitary Tumors — Benign tumors can also grow elsewhere in the body and release growth hormones.
- Diabetes — diabetes itself stimulates cells to produce growth hormones.
- Steroid Use — The use of steroids by athletes or others may lead to acromegaly. The high levels of growth hormone-induced by steroid abuse might act on cells in a way similar to insulin and cause them to increase their production rate.
Acromegaly is typically diagnosed by a combination of imaging tests, blood tests, and hormone suppression tests. Your doctor generally begins with a routine physical exam where they might measure your arms and legs. Some symptoms, such as enlarged jaw bones or lips, of acromegaly are observable.
Tests for acromegaly diagnosis:
- Blood tests — Blood tests measure the hormone levels in your body. A common test is called the IGF-1 Measurement Test.
- Imaging scan — An X-ray, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), or computerized tomography (CT) scan can help doctors identify pituitary or non-pituitary tumors.
- Hormone suppression test — Your doctor will measure your growth hormones before and after you consume a special glucose drink.
Acromegaly treatment varies by cause of the condition, severity of symptoms, and your general health. Ongoing monitoring of your hormone levels will help your doctor assess your condition and adjust your treatment.
Typical treatments include:
- Medication — Certain medication can help normalize growth hormone production.
- Surgery — Doctors will surgically remove tumors or other growths that may be causing your condition.
- Radiation Therapy — Radiation destroys cancer cells or slows their growth. Your doctor may use radiation therapy to reduce the size of any tumors.
There are several potential complications with untreated Acromegaly. These complications can significantly impact your health.
Acromegaly complications may include:
- Vision irregularities
- Vision loss
- High blood pressure (hypertension)
- Sleep apnea
- High cholesterol
- Heart issues
- Enlarged heart
- Type 2 diabetes
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
- Carpal tunnel
Acromegaly can increase your risk of developing cancerous tumors and of spinal cord fractures.
If you or a loved one experiences any of the symptoms of acromegaly, an endocrinologist at Baptist Health may be able to help.
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