Acromegaly can develop in people of any age but it usually affects adults between the ages of 30 and 50. If acromegaly occurs in children it causes gigantism, characterized by the fast growth of their skeleton due to an excessive amount of growth hormone released by the pituitary tumor in the body.
Acromegaly results in gradual enlargement of body tissues such as the bones of the face, jaw, hands, feet, and skull. Other names of this condition are: Somatotroph adenoma and Growth hormone excess
What are the Causes and Risk Factors of Acromegaly?
About 6 of every 100,000 adults are affected with acromegaly. It is caused by abnormal production of growth hormone after normal growth of the skeleton and other organs is complete.
The cause of the increased hormone secretion is generally the presence of a benign pituitary gland tumor. The pituitary gland, located just below the brain, is responsible for the control of production and release of growth hormone.
The only known risk factor of acromegaly is a prior history of a pituitary tumor.
Acromegaly does not generally run in families. It develops when a pituitary cell involves mutation that causes it to continue growing, dividing and releasing growth hormone. The cell eventually grows into a pituitary tumor that releases growth hormone continuously.
Sometimes, though rare, a non-pituitary tumor can cause acromegaly. The tumor may release hrowth hormone directly, or it may release another hormone (called GH-RH) that stimulates the pituitary to produce growth hormone. The increased levels of growth hormones in either case causes an elevated level of IGF-I, and the elevated IGF-I level causes abnormal growth.
In rare cases, non-pituitary tumors in the pancreas, lungs or adrenal glands may cause acromegaly. These tumors may directly produce excess growth hormone or may produce growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH). These GHRHs stimulate the pituitary gland to release growth hormone in the body leading to acromegaly.
Acromegaly may sometimes develop due to certain genetic syndromes such as:
- multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1
- familial isolated pituitary adenoma
- Carney complex
- McCune-Albright syndrome
Frequently Asked Questions:
1. Who is affected by acromegaly?
Acromegaly can affect people of any age but usually it affects middle-aged people (between ages 30 and 50). If acromegaly occurs in children it causes gigantism, in which the skeleton of a child grows very quickly due to excessive amount of growth hormone released by the pituitary tumor.
2. Can you die from acromegaly?
Acromegaly itself is not life-threatening and cannot kill a person. The complications of acromegaly however can be fatal. Acromegaly can cause serious complications such as heart problems, high blood pressure (hypertension), diabetes etc. If a patient is treated well for acromegaly and its complications, he or she can live a normal life.
3. Is acromegaly inherited?
Acromegaly is generally not inherited. It is inherited rarely in a condition called ‘familial isolated pituitary adenoma’ or multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1. Recent research has shown a small number of families in which acromegaly has been inherited. This form of acromegaly is named as ‘familial isolated pituitary adenoma’.
4. Can acromegaly be cured?
Acromegaly can be stopped and many of its symptoms can be reversed. It is a lifelong disease and cannot be cured completely. You may need treatment such as drugs and/or radiation therapy for several years. You will need to contact your health care provider regularly to have your growth hormone and IGF-1 levels checked even after the successful remission of the disease. With proper treatment, patients are able to live with a normal life expectancy.
5. Is acromegaly painful?
Certain symptoms of acromegaly can cause pain. For example, it can cause join pain. Acromegaly often causes the bones and cartilage to grow too much, which may be painful. If the condition is left untreated, it can lead to various complications that may be painful. The most common acromegaly complication is joint problems, pituitary hormone deficiency, and respiratory problems. With proper treatment, painful situations can be prevented and/or managed.