Acromegaly: A complex hormonal disorder
Acromegaly is a rare disorder caused by a benign (noncancerous) tumor of the pituitary gland, called an adenoma, causing too much growth hormone, or GH, to be released into the bloodstream. As GH travels throughout the body, it tells the body to make more of another hormone, insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1).
Normally, IGF-1 works with GH to help control growth of many tissues in the body. With too much IGF-1 and GH, the body can undergo abnormal growth of bones, cartilage, and other body tissues. While the more outward signs are enlarging hands, feet and face, more serious problems may also develop.
Your pituitary produces important hormones that control your body's growth and development, reproduction, and metabolism
Recognizing the potential signs of acromegaly
Although acromegaly causes a variety of symptoms, they can be difficult for doctors to recognize as being related to acromegaly. The physical changes associated with acromegaly tend to happen slowly and can often go unnoticed, even by family members.
The first steps a doctor typically takes toward diagnosing acromegaly are to record your complete medical history and conduct a thorough physical exam.
Based on the findings of your medical history and exam, your doctor may then recommend:
Blood tests to measure your GH and IGF-1 levels
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) to locate the pituitary tumor and determine its size
Because acromegaly is often difficult to diagnose, some patients may suffer with acromegaly for years before receiving an accurate diagnosis. Fortunately, once acromegaly has been identified, there are treatment options available. You should also know that you’re not alone—there are patient organizations where people with acromegaly share the latest information, support, and friendship. They’re in the “Support” section of this site.
Options for treating acromegaly
Surgically removing or reducing the pituitary tumor
In many cases, surgical treatment is the first option recommended for patients with acromegaly. While the idea of surgery can be frightening, removing or reducing the size of the pituitary tumor can be an important step toward managing the disease.
However, depending on the size and location of the tumor, its complete or partial removal isn’t always possible. For patients who cannot have surgery—and even for many patients who do—other treatment is often needed.
Radiation therapy is sometimes used when tumor cells remain after surgery or if the tumor extends beyond the pituitary. Radiation therapy destroys the remaining tumor cells and slowly reduces GH levels.
Managing acromegaly with medication
Many patients with acromegaly—including some who have had surgery and/or radiotherapy—need to take medication throughout their lives in order to control their GH and IGF-1 levels. Currently, there are 3 types of medications commonly used for treating acromegaly. Patients respond differently to each medication, and the side effects they experience may also vary. It’s important to discuss your medication options and potential side effects of each medication with your doctor before beginning any treatment.
Somatostatin analog (SSA)
Growth hormone receptor antagonist (GHRA)
Dopamine agonist (DA)