Acromegaly is a condition caused by the pituitary gland secreting too much of the human growth hormone. As a result of excess amounts of this hormone, a person’s body and extremities may grow too large. Organs can greatly increase in size and the most common form of death among those with acromegaly is cardiomyopathy, a condition where the heart becomes too large and ceases to function normally.
Acromegaly most commonly affects people who are middle-aged. It is a very rare disease affecting only approximately 4,000 people per million. In many cases pituitary gland malfunction is the result of a non-cancerous tumor on the gland. Either removing the tumor or using radiation to shrink the tumor size may have some success. This may not result in decreasing the size of organs where acromegaly is pronounced.
However, early stage acromegaly is often quite treatable either through the above options or through a surgery that reduces swelling around the pituitary gland. Generally this surgical procedure is effective in those with levels of growth hormones that are considered moderately high.
Medication may also be used to treat acromegaly by reducing either tumor size or by reducing the amount of growth hormone produced. Some of these medications are difficult to take, as they must be injected. They may also inhibit the functions of the pancreas, which can create other health issues. Those who use medication require significant monitoring.
Acromegaly may be hard to diagnose, since excess growth hormone may not always manifest in symptoms affecting physical appearance. However, when it is suspected, it can be easily diagnosed by evaluating growth hormone levels in the body through blood tests. When the condition is diagnosed, patients may need to have magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), echocardiograms, computerized tomography (CT) scans and other tests to look for impact on organs. Also the CT scan can help identify location of tumors.
Prognosis for acromegaly depends upon early identification and treatment. The condition will require lifelong medical follow-up and treatment, but those who have the condition identified before age 40 tend to live to normal life expectancy. Early treatment tends to avoid development of symptoms that are life threatening like loss of liver function or heart function.