Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

Acromegaly is excessive bone growth. It results when a person’sbody produces too much growth hormone. The condition causes gradualenlargement of the bones in the face, jaw, hands, feet, and skull.

What is going on in the body?

Most cases of acromegaly are caused by a pituitary tumorthat is benign, which means that it is not cancer. The tumor causes thepituitary gland to make excess hormones. The high level of growth hormoneproduces changes in many tissues and organs. Acromegaly occursafter growth has been completed. In most cases, it begins between theages of 30 and 50.

What are the causes and risks of the condition?

The high growth hormone levels that lead to acromegaly areusually caused by a pituitary tumor.No one knows what causes pituitary tumors. They are more common inwomen than in men.

Symptoms & Signs

What are the signs and symptoms of the condition?

Acromegaly develops slowly. In many people, the changesare so slow that they are not noticed for years. Someof the signs and symptoms of acromegaly include:

  • coarse body hair
  • deep, husky voice
  • erectile dysfunction
  • exaggerated facial features
  • excessive sweatingand often an offensive body odor
  • headaches
  • irregular menstrual cycles
  • irritability
  • joint pain
  • protrusion of the jaw
  • swelling of the hands and feet
  • thickening of the ribs, creating a barrel chest
  • weakness in the arms and legs
  • widening of spaces between teeth
  • widening of the fingers and toes
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the condition diagnosed?

    Diagnosis of acromegaly begins with a medical history andphysical exam. It may take years after the first symptoms appear todiagnose acromegaly. This is because the changes occur so slowly.A blood test to measure the levels of humangrowth hormones, called HGH, is helpful in diagnosis. Manypeople with acromegaly develop high blood glucose levels,so this sign may prompt a doctor to investigate further.

    Skull X-rays, a cranial CT scan,and a cranial MRIcan be done to take pictures of the pituitary gland. They can help thedoctor identify a problem with the pituitary gland. Bone X-rays can showthickening of the skull and the long bones of the body. X-rays may revealsome arthritisin the spine as well.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the condition?

    There is no prevention for acromegaly. However, earlytreatment may prevent the worsening of any complications from the condition.

    What are the long-term effects of the condition?

    A person who has untreated acromegaly usually has areduced life expectancy and may develop prematureheart disease.

    What are the risks to others?

    Acromegaly is not catching and poses no risks to others.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the condition?

    The goal of treatment is to stop the body from producing so muchgrowth hormone. There are three treatment approaches:

  • Surgery. When the pituitary tumor is removed, it corrects theabnormal growth hormone secretion in most people.
  • Medicine. Medicines such as octreotide and bromocriptinemay be used to block the production of growth hormone.
  • Radiation therapy.Radiation therapy helps to shrink the pituitary tumor, which then returnshealthy function to the organ.
  • What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Surgery may cause bleeding, infection, andallergic reactionsto the anesthesia.About one-third of people who are given medicines to block theproduction of growth hormones have side effects. Side effects includepain at the injection site, loose stools, abdominal pain,and gallbladder stones.Radiation may cause mouth ulcers. It may also damage normal tissuesaround the tumor. However, accurate targeting of the radiation can lessenthese effects.

    What happens after treatment for the condition?

    When treatment is a success, the excess bone growth should stop.There is a slight chance that the tumor that caused the acromegaly maycome back.

    How is the condition monitored?

    The person should have yearly medical exams. Blood testsmay be performed to measure the amount of growth hormone presentand make sure that it stays in a healthy range. Any new or worsening symptomsshould be reported to the doctor.

    Article type: xmedgeneral