Acromegaly is a rare endocrinological disorder; only three to four cases are diagnosed per million people each year.
You can get acromegaly when the pituitary gland produces more amount of growth hormones than normal for the age. Acromegaly typically happens between 30-50 years of age. It is a slowly progressive condition. It usually takes many years before the signs and symptoms appear and the condition is diagnosed.
The pituitary gland is a small endocrine gland located in your brain, just at the level of your nose. It normally secretes growth hormone and other hormones. The growth hormone plays an important role during your physical growth. Once you reach 20 years of age, most body parts cease to grow. However, excessive production of growth hormone stimulates the overproduction of another hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 stimulates the growth of skin, bone, and other tissues and gives the rise to the signs and symptoms of acromegaly.
Now, the pituitary gland may secrete more growth hormones due to any of the following causes:
- Pituitary tumor: A benign growth (tumor) in the pituitary, known as pituitary adenoma, is the cause of acromegaly in more than 95% of cases. It may also press on adjacent nerves and give rise to the signs and symptoms of acromegaly, such as headaches and blurred vision.
- Tumors in other organs: Tumors in organs, such as the pancreas or lungs, can release a hormone known as growth hormone-releasing hormone. This hormone can stimulate the pituitary gland to release more quantity of growth hormone, thus giving rise to acromegaly.
How is acromegaly diagnosed?
The doctor will suspect acromegaly by looking at your physical appearance and taking your medical history. To confirm their diagnosis, they will order additional tests that include:
- Growth hormone suppression test: This is the best method for confirming an acromegaly diagnosis. During this test, your blood growth hormone level is measured both before and after you drink glucose (sugar preparation). In people who don't have acromegaly, the glucose drink typically causes the growth hormone level to fall. However, if you have acromegaly, your growth hormone level stays high.
- IGF-1 level: This is a blood test that can be done at any time of the day. However, the levels of IGF-1 fluctuate several times a day, hence you may need to get your IGF-1 level tested a few more times. High levels of IGF-1 suggest acromegaly.
- Imaging tests: Once acromegaly has been confirmed, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) test will be ordered to check if you have a pituitary adenoma.
Is acromegaly curable?
Acromegaly can be treated in most cases. The treatment is more effective if the condition is diagnosed and treated early. The definitive treatment is surgery to remove the pituitary tumor. The surgery is done through the nose to excise the tumor. Sometimes, not the whole of the tumor can be removed. In such cases, doctors may need to:
- Perform another surgery
- Manage the remainder of signs and symptoms through life-long medications
- Administer radiation therapy
What happens if acromegaly is left untreated?
If left untreated, the increasing growth hormone levels can have serious complications. The possible complications include:
- Uncontrolled diabetes
- Extra growths on the colon, such as polyps that turn into cancer
- Loss of vision
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- High cholesterol levels
- Cardiomegaly (enlarged heart)
- Sleep apnea (temporary cessation of breathing during sleep)
- Goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland)
- Uterine fibroids
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Without treatment, your life expectancy may reduce by as many as ten years if you have uncontrolled growth hormone levels and conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease. With treatments that bring your IGF-1 and growth hormone levels to normal, you can have a normal life expectancy.
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Schwartz RA. Gigantism and Acromegaly. Medscape. https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/925446-overview
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bromocriptineBromocriptine is a medication used to treat hyperprolactinemia, a condition with high blood levels of the hormone prolactin, and associated disorders. It is also used to treat Parkinson’s disease, excessive growth or gigantism (acromegaly), and type 2 diabetes mellitus. Common side effects of Cycloset include nausea, headache, dizziness, nasal inflammation (rhinitis), weakness (asthenia), fatigue, constipation, diarrhea, indigestion (dyspepsia), and others. Common side effects of Parlodel include nausea, headache, dizziness, constipation, diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal cramps and discomfort, loss of appetite (anorexia), indigestion (dyspepsia), gastrointestinal bleeding, and others. Cycloset must be used in pregnancy only if clearly needed. The safety of Parlodel use in pregnancy is not established. Bromocriptine should not be used in nursing mothers.
Common Medical Abbreviations & Terms
Doctors, pharmacists, and other health-care professionals use abbreviations, acronyms, and other terminology for instructions and information in regard to a patient's health condition, prescription drugs they are to take, or medical procedures that have been ordered. There is no approved this list of common medical abbreviations, acronyms, and terminology used by doctors and other health- care professionals. You can use this list of medical abbreviations and acronyms written by our doctors the next time you can't understand what is on your prescription package, blood test results, or medical procedure orders. Examples include:
- ANED: Alive no evidence of disease. The patient arrived in the ER alive with no evidence of disease.
- ARF: Acute renal (kidney) failure
- cap: Capsule.
- CPAP: Continuous positive airway pressure. A treatment for sleep apnea.
- DJD: Degenerative joint disease. Another term for osteoarthritis.
- DM: Diabetes mellitus. Type 1 and type 2 diabetes
- HA: Headache
- IBD: Inflammatory bowel disease. A name for two disorders of the gastrointestinal (BI) tract, Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis
- JT: Joint
- N/V: Nausea or vomiting.
- p.o.: By mouth. From the Latin terminology per os.
- q.i.d.: Four times daily. As in taking a medicine four times daily.
- RA: Rheumatoid arthritis
- SOB: Shortness of breath.
- T: Temperature. Temperature is recorded as part of the physical examination. It is one of the "vital signs."
octreotideOctreotide is a medication used in the treatment of acromegaly, a disorder associated with excessive blood levels of growth hormone, and severe, watery diarrhea caused by certain types of gastrointestinal (GI) tumors. Common side effects of octreotide include headache, dizziness, fatigue, pain at injection site, abdominal distress, abdominal pain, diarrhea, flatulence, constipation, nausea, vomiting, dry mouth (xerostomia), biliary tract disease, and others. Do not take if pregnant or breastfeeding.
Illustrations of ThyroidThe thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck just below the Adams apple. See a picture of the Thyroid and learn more about the health topic.
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Thyroid QuizYour unexplained change in weight could indicate a thyroid condition. Take the Thyroid Quiz to learn about common symptoms and treatments of overactive and underactive thyroid disorders.