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Growth Hormone Disorder (Acromegaly)

Alternative names: Growth Hormone Disorder, Somatotroph Adenoma, Growth Hormone Excess

What is acromegaly?
What are the signs of acromegaly?
What causes acromegaly?
How does my doctor tell if I have acromegaly?
How is acromegaly treated?

What is acromegaly?

The pituitary gland is about the size of a pea, and is located at the base of the brain. It controls the production of hormones in all endocrine glands. Acromegaly is a condition in which the pituitary gland secretes growth hormone after the normal growth of the skeleton and other organs is complete. In almost all cases, it is caused by a benign (non-cancerous) tumor of the pituitary gland.

What are the signs of acromegaly?

"Acromegaly" means "enlarged extremities." Because adults do not need growth hormone, the condition can cause these symptoms:

  • Enlarged hands, feet, facial bones, jaw, forehead, and/or tongue
  • Widened fingers or toes
  • Headaches
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Joint pain
  • Absent or irregular menstrual periods in women
  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Sleep apnea

The symptoms of acromegaly can take years to develop. Left untreated, the condition can cause serious health problems.

What causes acromegaly?

Acromegaly is most often caused by a benign (non-cancerous) tumor of the pituitary gland that secretes excess growth hormone. In rare cases, acromegaly can be caused by tumors of the pancreas, lungs or adrenal glands.

How does my doctor tell if I have acromegaly?

Your doctor will want to perform a simple blood test to check for high levels of growth hormone. Other tests may include:

  • A glucose tolerance test to check growth hormone levels
  • X-ray exams of the spine to check for abnormal bone growth
  • Computed tomography (CT) and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans make images of the pituitary gland, and can help your doctor find any growths or tumors

How is acromegaly treated?

The most common treatment for acromegaly is to remove the tumor of the pituitary gland. In a transsphenoidal adenomectomy, the surgeon uses a microscope and tiny instruments to remove the tumor. The surgery is done through a nostril, or through an opening made below the upper lip.

If the surgery does not stop the symptoms of acromegaly, a doctor may recommend radiation treatment, or medications that may help control the secretion of excess growth hormone. Cabergoline, octreotide, bromocriptine, and pegvisomant are some of these medications.

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