What is acromegaly?
When your pituitary gland makes
too much growth hormone, abnormal growth occurs. This is called acromegaly. The abnormal
growth starts in your hands and feet, as soft tissue begins to swell. This rare disease
affects mostly middle-aged adults. It can lead to severe illness and even death if not
In children, too much growth
hormone causes a condition called gigantism. This leads to a large increase in
What causes acromegaly?
Acromegaly happens when the
pituitary gland makes too much growth hormone for a long time. Several reasons may cause
this extra amount of hormone to be made. The most common is a noncancer (benign) tumor
in the pituitary gland. Tumors in other parts of the body can also cause acromegaly.
But that is rare.
What are the symptoms of acromegaly?
Each person’s symptoms may vary. They depend on how long you have had
the disease. Symptoms may include:
- Swelling of your hands and feet. You
may find your rings no longer fit and you need to buy larger shoes.
- Larger lips, nose, and tongue, as your
- Larger jaw that sticks out more
- Thicker body hair
- Thicker, darker skin and skin
- More sweat and body odor
- Deeper voice
- Larger chest as your ribs get
- Joint pain
- Degenerative arthritis
- Increased size of your heart and other
- Strange feelings and weakness in your
arms and legs, including carpal tunnel syndrome
- Snoring and breaks in breathing during
sleep (sleep apnea)
- Lack of energy (fatigue) and
- Loss of eyesight
- Irregular menstrual cycles
- Breast discharge (women)
- Impotence (men)
- Enlarged thyroid gland
These symptoms may look like other health problems. Always see
your healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
How is acromegaly diagnosed?
Symptoms may not be seen right
away. So acromegaly is often not found until years later. Your healthcare provider will
take your health history and give you a physical exam. In addition, you may need:
taken regularly over the years. These are used to see physical changes.
X-rays. These are done to see bone thickening.
tests. These are done to check your growth hormone level and levels of other
CT scan. These can help find tumors.
How is acromegaly treated?
Treatment will depend on your symptoms, age, and general health. It
will also depend on how severe the condition is.
Treatment of acromegaly depends on
what is causing the disease. The main goal of treatment is to get your growth hormone
levels back to normal.
Most cases are caused by benign
tumors on the pituitary gland. Others are caused by tumors in the pancreas, lungs, or
adrenal glands. Treatment may include:
- Surgery to remove or reduce the size
of a tumor
- Radiation therapy
- Shots (injections) of medicines to
block growth hormone
What are the possible complications of acromegaly?
If acromegaly isn’t treated, it can lead to several problems. These may include:
- Heart disease
- Diabetes and impaired glucose
- High blood pressure
- Vision problems
The disease also raises your risk for colon polyps. These are small growths on the lining of your colon. They may lead to colorectal cancer.
Living with acromegaly
You should see your healthcare
provider on a regular basis. Your provider can make sure your treatment is working. Your
provider can also check for any problems. Early treatment can then be started if
When should I call my healthcare provider?
Tell your healthcare provider if your symptoms get worse or you have new symptoms.
Key points about acromegaly
- Acromegaly is a rare disease. It occurs when your pituitary gland makes too much growth hormone for a long time. That causes abnormal growth.
- Acromegaly starts in the hands and feet. It affects mostly middle-aged adults.
- Most people with this condition have a
noncancer (benign) tumor in the pituitary gland.
- Symptoms depend on how long you have
had the disease. Symptoms can be missed. So the disease is often not diagnosed until
- If not treated, acromegaly can lead to
heart problems, arthritis, diabetes, vision problems, high blood pressure, or even
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for your visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- Bring someone with you to help you ask questions and remember what your provider tells you.
- At the visit, write down the name of a new diagnosis, and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new instructions your provider gives you.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment is prescribed, and how it will help you. Also know what the side effects are.
- Ask if your condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if you do not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If you have a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your provider if you have questions.