What Is Acromegaly?
Acromegaly is a chronic condition that results from excessive growth hormone (GH) in the blood. This extra GH causes the body’s tissues to grow larger than normal. The condition typically appears around age 18, after the body’s bones and other organs have finished growing.
Acromegaly is frequently caused by tumors on the pituitary gland. When these tumors are present, the pituitary gland produces more GH than normal.
Acromegaly can take years to be diagnosed, in part because this very uncommon condition develops slowly. It is often improperly diagnosed as osteoarthritis. Some of the most common symptoms include:
Carpal tunnel syndrome — A compressed nerve that runs through the wrist causes tingling or numbing sensations in the affected hand or arm.
Enlargement — The most common areas of growth include the forehead, jaw, hands and feet.
Headache — If the pituitary tumor that causes acromegaly pushes against the brain, frequent headaches may result.
Without appropriate treatment, acromegaly can lead to spinal cord compression, vision loss, hypertension and more. The main goal of treatment is to lower GH levels in order to alleviate symptoms or prevent damage to the pituitary gland and/or surrounding brain tissue. Treatment options include:
Transsphenoidal surgery — Typically an outpatient procedure, this surgery allows the surgeon to remove the tumor residing in the pituitary gland. This is the only treatment option that offers a potential cure for acromegaly.
Radiation therapy — Radiation therapy is often used to get rid of tumor cells left following surgery.
Dopamine agonists — These oral medications slow the pituitary gland’s secretion of GH.
Somatostatin analogs — Administered as injections, these medications lower levels of GH and decrease tumor size in many patients.
Growth hormone receptor antagonist — Another injectable medication, growth hormone receptor antagonists work by blocking GH’s effect on tissue.
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