Gigantism is a childhood disorder that causes a child to grow much more than his or her peers, developing an unusually large size. There are some complications that can be associated with gigantism, leading most people to choose to treat it even if they are not concerned about the unusual stature the patient will eventually acquire. Treatment of gigantism can be very successful in most cases.
This condition is quite rare. It is usually caused by a benign tumor located on the pituitary gland. The tumor triggers the increased production of human growth hormone (HGH) and this leads to increased size. The bones will grow longer and heavier, and the hands and feet will also be noticeably larger than usual. People with gigantism can develop delayed puberty, cardiovascular problems, and other endocrine problems in association with the imbalance of hormones in the body.
Doctors can diagnose a child with gigantism after the child exceeds the growth curves for other children from similar backgrounds and shows no signs of slowing down. Medical imaging studies of the head usually reveal a tumor, and the blood contains elevated levels of HGH and may betray other variations in hormone levels as well, depending on the cause of the condition.
Surgery to remove the tumor is a highly effective treatment. If surgery is not an option, medications can be used to suppress the production of human growth hormone and slow the rate of growth. Patients who have had surgery may require hormone replacement, if it is necessary to take out the entire pituitary gland, and they usually need to be monitored for life for any signs of hormone imbalances.
When a patient is diagnosed with gigantism, the doctor can discuss the available treatment options and provide treatment recommendations to address the specifics of the patient's case. If the gigantism is caused by something other than a pituitary tumor, other treatment options may be considered.
If levels of growth hormone start to spike after the growth plates in the bones have fused, the patient develops a condition known as acromegaly. In acromegaly, instead of growing larger, the patient experiences deformities of the bones because the body is trying to grow, but the bones are not flexible enough to allow it. Acromegaly can cause distinctive deformities of the face, hands, and feet and is also associated with other endocrine changes that can create complications for the patient.