Acromegaly is a rare disease in which the pituitary gland (in adults) creates excessive amounts of growth hormone. This leads to excessive growth, although, in adults, not the greater height because growth in height stops with completion of the formation of the main bones, i.e. at the end of adolescence. Excess of growth hormones causes acromegaly, a disease in which bone formation is thickening and other organs are increasing. Excessive secretion of growth hormone is due to pituitary tumors.
Acromegaly is usually not seen until middle age. The first symptom which the patient perceives is usually gradual increase of the hands and feet – e.g. patient feels like his ring tightens a finger or suddenly finds that he needs a bigger shoe size. The head and neck are becoming wider, and lower jaw, forehead, nose and ears protruding. Skin and tongue thicken, and facial features become coarse. The patient’s voice hath become deeper, and feels a tingling sensation in the hands and fatigue; he sweats more, is numb, and feels pain throughout the body. In women, increased hairiness on the body and limbs may appear.
Some cases of acromegaly are accompanied by diabetes, so the patient will feel the symptoms of this disease. In addition, if the pituitary tumor is large, symptoms can be caused by the pressure of the tumor on adjacent parts of the brain.
The longer untreated, this disease is more dangerous. If the heart increases even further, it may lead to congestive heart failure. High blood pressure is also possible, and a large pituitary tumor can cause problems with vision or damage to the remaining part of the pituitary gland – causing hypopituitarism, a disease that can lead to death if untreated.
What to do?
If you notice described symptoms, be sure to consult a doctor. If the doctor suspects that you have acromegaly, he will send you to a specialist for tests. Blood tests will determine the amount of growth hormone in the body, and with x-rays and computed tomography of the skull possible abnormal brain malignancies in the hypophysis.
If tests shows that there is a tumor of the pituitary gland which is no longer active, and the disease ceased to thrive, you probably won’t need any treatment.
If, however, an active tumor causes difficulties because of the size, it needs to be removed or destroyed. Sometimes, the disease is treated with tablets of medication that lowers growth hormone. The best treatment depends on many factors and, therefore, specialist treatment is required. In addition, any other difficulties that are the result of acromegaly should be treated, too.
With surgical removal of pituitary tumors, problems with eyesight can be successfully solved. However, surgery does not have to bear full recovery (healing) because the changes on bones and appearance generally irreversible. In any case, the treatment stops the progression of the disease and alleviate many symptoms.