Overview of Acromegaly
Acromegaly is a disorder that results from excessive secretion of growth hormone (GH) after the fusion of growth plates. Pituitary gland is responsible for secreting GH which is increased abnormally in acromegaly. This excessive GH production occurs due to non-cancerous tumor of pituitary gland and is known as pituitary adenoma. Acromegaly is most often diagnosed in middle-aged adults, although symptoms can appear at any age. If not treated, acromegaly can result in serious illness and premature death.
Causes and Risk Factors of Acromegaly
Acromegaly occurs due to overproduction of growth hormone (GH) by a benign tumor of the pituitary gland called as pituitary adenoma. These tumors secrete excessive growth hormone and compress surrounding brain tissues as they grow larger. In some cases, compression of optic nerves may result in visual disorders. Compression of the normal pituitary tissue can change production of other hormones, leading to changes in menstruation and breast discharge in females and impotence in males because of reduced testosterone production. Most pituitary tumors arise spontaneously and does not follow genetic inheritance. Genetic change in a single pituitary cell may leads to increased cell division and formation of pituitary tumor. These mutations re not congenital and acquired during life. In few patients, pancreatic, adrenal or pulmonary tumors may cause acromegaly as they produce GH themselves or produce GHRH (growth hormone releasing hormone) which stimulates production of GH.
Signs and Symptoms of Acromegaly
The common signs of acromegaly include enlarged nose, ear, lips, hand and feet, thick and oily skin, coarsened facial features, increased chest size (barrel chest), enlargement of vocal cords resulting in thick, deep voice and slowing of speech, skull expansion, bow and lower jaw protrusion, teeth spacing and macroglossia. Patients can also suffer from increased hair growth, increased sweating, hyperpigmentation, skin tags, severe snoring due to obstruction of upper airway, pain and limited joint mobility, impaired vision and fatigue and muscle weakness. Complications may occur in the form of arthritis, enlarged heart, liver fibrosis, bile duct hyperplasia, hypertension and Type 2 diabetes. Patients with acromegaly are also at increased risk for colon polyps, which may develop into colon cancer if not removed.