What is Acromegaly?

Acromegaly comes from the Greek words “akros” meaning extreme or extremity and “megalos” meaning large. Acromegaly is characterized by enlarged extremities, caused by a benign (most often noncancerous) tumour of the pituitary gland. This tumour, called a pituitary adenoma, produces an excess of growth hormone (GH) leading to growth of bones and soft tissues. In children this condition is called gigantism and it is characterized by excess size in height associated with enlarged extremities because GH excess appears before growth plate closure at puberty.

The estimated frequency of acromegaly in the general population is approximately 40-90 cases per million. Both genders are equally affected and the diagnosis is typically made in middle-aged adults. Acromegaly is a chronic disease that develops slowly and insidiously over time, hence often taking an average of 10 years to diagnose. Family, co-workers, close friends and even primary caregivers often miss the subtle early beginning changes in the appearance of someone with acromegaly.

Common signs of acromegaly include changes in physical appearance, increase in ring and shoe size, excessive sweating, headaches, menstrual disturbances in women of childbearing years and erectile dysfunction in men.

Chronic GH overproduction leads also to serious complications such as carpal tunnel syndrome, glucose intolerance or diabetes, sleep apnea, hypertension and increased cardiovascular risk factors. If untreated acromegaly may lead to increased mortality and worsening of several health conditions.

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Check out the true-2-me guest editorial on treatment Considerations for Acromegaly

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