Acromegaly occurs when the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone during adulthood.
Located at the base of the brain, the pituitary gland’s job is to produce essential bodily hormones—including growth hormone—and to stimulate other glands into producing their own. Tumors can sometimes cause the pituitary gland to overproduce growth hormone, which can lead to one of multiple disorders. When this happens in childhood, it leads to a condition called gigantism. In adults, it becomes acromegaly.
The Cause of Acromegaly
Acromegaly is caused by an adenoma, which is a benign tumor that affects the production of growth hormone. A pituitary adenoma will force the gland to make more of the hormone, but an adenoma elsewhere in the body can either secrete its own growth hormones or other hormones that trigger more growth hormone production from the pituitary gland.
Symptoms of Acromegaly
The effects of acromegaly can sometimes be so subtle at first that patients don’t even know they have developed the condition until years afterward. In other patients, symptoms can be more pronounced.
Signs to look for include:
- Enlarged hands, feet and facial features
- Thickened, oily skin
- Excessive sweating
- Muscle weakness
- Joint pain and limited mobility
- Deepened voice
- Vision problems
- Lowered sex drive
Additionally, men may experience erectile dysfunction and women may have irregular menstrual cycles.
If a health care professional believes a patient may have acromegaly, a series of tests will be ordered to help diagnose the condition. For instance, the diagnostic process may include:
Growth hormone suppression test – The patient’s growth hormone level is checked before and after consuming glucose.
IGF-1 measurement – The patient’s IGF-1 level is checked through a blood sample.
Imaging – Magnetic resource imaging (MRI) will show the location and size of a tumor, whether it is in the pituitary gland or elsewhere in the body.
Treatments for Acromegaly
Surgery to remove the adenoma and medication to stabilize hormone levels is generally how acromegaly is treated, though some tumors will also require radiation treatment to be fully removed. Tampa General Hospital uses cutting-edge technology to achieve world-class results when treating acromegaly and all other types of pituitary disorders.