What is Acromegaly and What is the Cause of this Disease?

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What is Acromegaly?

Acromegaly is an uncommon yet significant health condition or hormonal disorder occurring when the body produces an excess of growth hormone (GH) produced by the Pituitary gland. This condition impacts the bones and tissues of the body, leading to irregular growth of hands, feet, and face. Common approaches for treating acromegaly involve surgery, medication, and radiation therapy.

Normally, the pituitary gland, a small pea-sized gland at the base of the brain, produces GH. However, in acromegaly, tumours on the pituitary or other body parts lead to excess GH production.

GH, also known as human growth hormone (HGH) or somatotropin, is a natural hormone crucial for promoting growth in children. While GH no longer increases height once the growth plates in the bones have fused, it remains essential for maintaining normal bone, cartilage, organ structure, and metabolism in adults. This includes regulating blood glucose levels.

Main Cause of Acromegaly
Main Cause of Acromegaly (Photo: Cleveland Clinic)

What is the Cause of this Disease?

  • The primary cause of this condition is the overproduction of Growth Hormone by the pituitary gland.
  • The pituitary gland, often called the Master Gland, is a small gland located at the base of the brain responsible for synthesizing crucial hormones in the body.
  • When there is an excessive growth of this gland, it can compress surrounding nerve tissues and optic nerves.
  • This compression leads to abnormal bone growth and the enlargement of organs.
  • Individuals with this disorder typically exhibit larger bones compared to others.
  • It is estimated that approximately 95% of those affected by this condition have a tumour impacting the pituitary gland.
Read Also: What are the Functions of the Pituitary Gland?

What are the Symptoms of Acromegaly?

The signs and symptoms of Acromegaly can vary from patient to patient, and they often develop gradually. Changes may go unnoticed for years. Here is a list of common symptoms associated with Acromegaly:

  • Sleeplessness.
  • Excess fatigue.
  • A hoarse voice.
  • Profuse sweating.
  • Frequent headaches.
  • Abnormal weight gain.
  • Develop odour in the body.
  • Enlargement of jaws or tongue.
  • Develop weakness in the muscles.
  • Painful Joints.
  • Excessive growth of hair in women.
  • The fingers and toes are widespread.
  • Develop tags on the Skin.
  • Excessive sweating or oily skin
  • Enlargement of the bones present in the hands, face, and feet.

How is Acromegaly diagnosed?

To diagnose this hormonal disorder, a series of tests are conducted to confirm the overproduction of growth hormone in the body. The diagnostic tests include:

  • Blood test
  • MRI scan of the brain
  • Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1)
  • Oral glucose tolerance test (OGTT)

How is Acromegaly Treated?

In the initial stages of this disease, symptoms may be subtle. Acromegaly predominantly occurs in adults, typically between the ages of 30 and 50, but symptoms can manifest at any age.

Appropriate treatment can help alleviate symptoms to some extent. The approach to treating this disorder generally depends on the patient’s age, overall health, and the extent of the condition. There are three primary methods for treating acromegaly:

  • Surgery: Surgery is often the recommended and most effective option for many individuals with acromegaly. This involves a procedure known as transsphenoidal surgery, where the tumour cells are completely removed.
  • Radiation: Radiation therapy is commonly administered to eliminate large tumour cells, aiding in reducing growth hormone levels.
Read More: What are Hormones? Types, Functions, Important Hormones

What are the complications of acromegaly?

If left untreated, this disease can lead to various serious health complications. These may include:

  • Type 2 Diabetes.
  • Hypertension (High blood pressure)
  • Heart disease
  • Disease of your heart muscle (Cardiomyopathy)
  • Arthritis
  • Colon polyps (can potentially turn into colon cancer)
  • Vision loss
  • Kidney failure
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • Compression of the spinal cord

Frequently Asked Questions about Acromegaly

Q1. What is the difference between gigantism and acromegaly?

Gigantism is an uncommon disorder resulting from the excessive secretion of growth hormones in the body, typically occurring during childhood or before puberty. On the other hand, acromegaly is a rare disorder caused by the excessive secretion of growth hormones in the body, but it manifests at any age after puberty.

Q2. How common is acromegaly?

Acromegaly is a rare disorder that impacts both males and females, with an occurrence rate of approximately 50 to 70 people per million. Researchers estimate that three out of every million individuals develop this disorder each year, and it can manifest at any age after puberty.

Q3. Who is more affected by acromegaly?

This hormonal disorder is observed in both male and female patients and is typically diagnosed between the ages of 30 and 50 years.

Q4. Is acromegaly hereditary?

No, acromegaly is not inherited. It arises spontaneously in the pituitary gland due to the excessive secretion of growth hormone in the body.

Q5. Can we prevent acromegaly?

Regrettably, there is currently no known way to prevent acromegaly. Scientists are uncertain about the exact causes of pituitary tumours leading to acromegaly, but there is a belief that certain genetic factors may contribute to its development.

Major Sources of This Article: my.clevelandclinic.org

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