Acromegaly

What is acromegaly?

When your pituitary gland makes
too much growth hormone, abnormal growth occurs. This is called acromegaly. The abnormal
growth starts in your hands and feet, as soft tissue begins to swell. This rare disease
affects mostly middle-aged adults. It can lead to severe illness and even death if not
treated.

In children, too much growth
hormone causes a condition called gigantism. This leads to a large increase in
height.

What causes acromegaly?

Acromegaly happens when the
pituitary gland makes too much growth hormone for a long time. Several reasons may cause
this extra amount of hormone to be made. The most common is a noncancer (benign) tumor
in the pituitary gland. Tumors in other parts of the body can also cause acromegaly.
But that is rare.

What are the symptoms of acromegaly?

Each person’s symptoms may vary. They depend on how long you have had
the disease. Symptoms may include:

  • Swelling of your hands and feet. You
    may find your rings no longer fit and you need to buy larger shoes.
  • Larger lips, nose, and tongue, as your
    bones grow
  • Larger jaw that sticks out more
    (protrudes)
  • Thicker body hair
  • Thicker, darker skin and skin
    tags
  • More sweat and body odor
  • Deeper voice
  • Larger chest as your ribs get
    thicker
  • Joint pain
  • Degenerative arthritis
  • Increased size of your heart and other
    organs
  • Strange feelings and weakness in your
    arms and legs, including carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Snoring and breaks in breathing during
    sleep (sleep apnea)
  • Lack of energy (fatigue) and
    weakness
  • Headaches
  • Loss of eyesight
  • Irregular menstrual cycles
    (women)
  • Breast discharge (women)
  • Impotence (men)
  • Enlarged thyroid gland

These symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see
your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.

How is acromegaly diagnosed?

Symptoms may not be seen right
away. So acromegaly is often not found until years later. Your healthcare provider will
take your health history and give you a physical exam. In addition, you may need:

  • Photos
    taken regularly over the years.
    These are used to see physical changes.
  • X-rays. These are done to see bone thickening.
  • Blood
    tests.
    These are done to check your growth hormone level and levels of other
    related hormones.
  • MRI or
    CT scan.
    These can help find tumors.