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Acromegaly and Gigantism

Acromegaly and gigantism

Definition

Acromegaly is a disease in which an abnormality in the pituitary gland leads to an oversecretion of growth hormone. In adults, this condition results in an enlargement of bones; in children, the abnormality results in excessive height and is called gigantism.

Description

Acromegaly is a disorder in which the abnormal release of a particular chemical from the pituitary gland in the brain causes increased growth in bone and soft tissue, as well as a variety of other disturbances throughout the body. This chemical released from the pituitary gland is called growth hormone (GH). The body's ability to process and use nutrients like fats and sugars is also altered. In children whose bony growth plates have not closed, the chemical changes of acromegaly result in exceptional growth of long bones. This variant is called gigantism, with the additional bone growth causing unusual height. When the abnormality occurs after bone growth stops, i.e. in adults, the disorder is called acromegaly.

Demographics

Acromegaly is a relatively rare disorder, occurring in approximately 50 out of every 1 million people. Gigantism occurs even more rarely, with reported cases in the United States numbering only about 100 by 2004. Males and females are similarly affected. Onset of gigantism is usually at puberty , although some cases of toddlers and young children with gigantism have been reported.

Causes and symptoms

The pituitary is a small gland located at the base of the brain, which releases certain hormones that are important to the functioning of other organs or body systems. The pituitary hormones travel throughout the body and are involved in a large number of activities, including the regulation of growth and reproductive functions. The cause of acromegaly can be traced to the pituitary's production of GH.

Under normal conditions, the pituitary receives input from another brain structure, the hypothalamus, located at the base of the brain. This input from the hypothalamus regulates the pituitary's release of hormones. For example, the hypothalamus produces growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), which directs the pituitary to release GH. Input from the hypothalamus should also direct the pituitary to stop releasing hormones.

In acromegaly, the pituitary continues to release GH and ignores signals from the hypothalamus. In the liver, GH causes production of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which is responsible for growth throughout the body. When the pituitary refuses to stop producing GH, the levels of IGF-1 also reach abnormal peaks. Bones, soft tissue, and organs throughout the body begin to enlarge, and the body changes its ability to process and use nutrients like sugars and fats.

The most common cause of acromegaly and gigantism is the development of a noncancerous tumor within the pituitary, called a pituitary adenoma. In the case of pituitary adenomas, the tumor itself is the source of the abnormal release of GH. As these tumors grow, they may press on nearby structures within the brain, causing headaches and changes in vision. As the adenoma grows, it may disrupt other pituitary tissue, interfering with the release of other hormones. These disruptions may be responsible for changes in the menstrual cycle and abnormal production of breast milk in women or delayed development of reproductive organs. In rare cases, acromegaly is caused by the abnormal production of GHRH, which leads to the increased production of GH. Certain tumors in the pancreas, lungs, adrenal glands, thyroid, and intestine can produce GHRH, which in turn triggers production of an abnormal quantity of GH.

In acromegaly, an individual's hands and feet begin to grow, becoming thick and doughy. The jaw line, nose, and forehead also grow, and facial features are described as coarse. The tongue grows larger, and because the jaw is larger, the teeth become more widely spaced. Due to swelling within the structures of the throat and sinuses, the voice becomes deeper and sounds hollower, and patients may develop loud snoring. Children and adolescents with gigantism show a characteristic lengthening and enlargement of bones, principally of the limbs. Some symptoms caused by various hormonal changes are as follows:

  • heavy sweating
  • oily skin
  • increased coarse body hair
  • improper processing of sugars in the diet (and sometimes actual diabetes)
  • high blood pressure
  • increased calcium in the urine (sometimes leading to kidney stones)
  • increased risk of gallstones
  • swelling of the thyroid gland

People with acromegaly have more skin tags, or outgrowths of tissue, than normal. This increase in skin tags is also associated with the development of growths, called polyps, within the large intestine that may eventually become cancerous. Patients with acromegaly often suffer from headaches and arthritis. The various swellings and enlargements throughout the body may press on nerves, causing sensations of local tingling or burning and sometimes result in muscle weakness.

When to call the doctor

Because early diagnosis and treatment of acromegaly and gigantism can often lead to the avoidance of more serious symptoms, a healthcare professional should be contacted if a child develops any of the early symptoms of the disease, such as a marked increase in height or height that is excessive for his or her age.

Diagnosis

Because acromegaly produces slow changes, diagnosis is often significantly delayed. In fact, the characteristic coarsening of the facial features is often not recognized by family members, friends, or long-time family physicians. Often, the diagnosis is suspected by a new physician who sees the patient for the first time and is struck by the patient's characteristic facial appearance. Comparing old photographs from a number of different periods often increases suspicion of the disease. By contrast, the effects of gigantism are typically dramatic, with remarkable changes over a short period of time.

Because the quantity of GH produced varies widely under normal conditions, demonstrating high levels of GH in the blood is not sufficient to merit a diagnosis of acromegaly. Instead, laboratory tests measuring an increase of IGF-1 (three to ten times above the normal level) are useful. These results, however, must be carefully interpreted because normal laboratory values for IGF-1 vary when the patient is pregnant, is pubescent, is elderly, or is severely malnourished. Normal patients will show a decrease in GH production when given a large dose of sugar (glucose). Patients with acromegaly will not show this decrease and will often show an increase in GH production. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is useful for viewing the pituitary gland and for identifying and locating an adenoma. When no adenoma can be located, the search for a GHRH-producing tumor in another location begins.

Treatment

The first step in treatment of acromegaly is removal of all or part of the pituitary adenoma. Removal usually requires surgery, usually performed by entering the skull through the nose. While this surgery can cause rapid improvement of many acromegaly symptoms, most patients will also require additional treatment with medication. Bromocriptine (Parlodel) is a medication that can be taken by mouth, while octreotide (Sandostatin) must be injected every eight hours. Both of these medications are helpful in reducing GH production but must often be taken for life and produce their own unique side effects.

Alternative treatment

Some patients who cannot undergo surgery are treated with radiation therapy to the pituitary in an attempt to shrink the adenoma. Radiating the pituitary may take up to ten years, however, and may also injure or destroy other normal parts of the pituitary.

Nutritional concerns

Individuals with acromegaly or gigantism who have diabetes or diabetes-like symptoms should maintain a diet that helps normalize blood sugar levels.

Prognosis

Without treatment, patients with acromegaly are likely to die early because of the disease's effects on the heart, lungs, brain, or due to the development of cancer in the large intestine. With treatment, however, a patient with acromegaly may be able to live a normal lifespan.

Prevention

The initial onset of acromegaly or gigantism cannot as of 2004 be prevented. Once a pituitary adenoma has been removed, radiotherapy and/or medication may be recommended to prevent a recurrence of the tumor.

Parental concerns

In the great majority of children of tall stature, genetics and nutrition are the cause of the greater-than-average height, and linear growth ceases with the end of puberty. In individuals with gigantism who are not treated, linear growth can continue unchecked for several decades. It is important that a child with the symptoms of gigantism be assessed medically so that treatment can be implemented and abnormal linear height as well as potentially serious symptoms such as heart disease or colon cancer be minimized or avoided.

KEY TERMS

Adenoma A type of noncancerous (benign) tumor that often involves the overgrowth of certain cells found in glands. These tumors can secrete hormones or cause changes in hormone production in nearby glands.

Gland A collection of cells whose function is to release certain chemicals (hormones) that are important to the functioning of other, sometimes distantly located, organs or body systems.

Hormone A chemical messenger secreted by a gland or organ and released into the bloodstream. It travels via the bloodstream to distant cells where it exerts an effect.

Hypothalamus A part of the forebrain that controls heartbeat, body temperature, thirst, hunger, body temperature and pressure, blood sugar levels, and other functions.

Pituitary gland The most important of the endocrine glands (glands that release hormones directly into the bloodstream), the pituitary is located at the base of the brain. Sometimes referred to as the "master gland," it regulates and controls the activities of other endocrine glands and many body processes including growth and reproductive function. Also called the hypophysis.

Resources

BOOKS

Cohen, Pinchas. "Hyperpituitarism, Tall Stature, and Overgrowth Syndromes." In Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics, 17th ed. Edited by Richard E. Behrman et al. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2004.

Melmed, Shlomo, and David Kleinberg. "Acromegaly." In Williams Textbook of Endocrinology, 10th ed. Edited by P. Reed Larson et al. Philadelphia: Saunders, 2003.

PERIODICALS

Melmed, Shlomo, et al. "Consensus Guidelines for Acromegaly Management." Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism 87, no. 9 (September 1, 2002): 8795.

ORGANIZATIONS

Pituitary Network Association. PO Box 1958, Thousand Oaks, CA 91358. Web site: <www.acromegaly.org>.

WEB SITES

Shim, Melanie, and Pinchas Cohen. "Gigantism and Acromegaly." eMedicine, July 29, 2004. Available online at <www.emedicine.com/ped/topic2634.htm> (accessed December 23, 2004).

Rosalyn Carson-DeWitt, MD Stephanie Dionne Sherk

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Acromegaly and Gigantism

Acromegaly and Gigantism

Definition

Acromegaly is a disorder in which the abnormal release of a particular chemical from the pituitary gland in the brain causes increased growth in bone and soft tissue, as well as a variety of other disturbances throughout the body. This chemical released from the pituitary gland is called growth hormone (GH). The body's ability to process and use nutrients like fats and sugars is also altered. In children whose bony growth plates have not closed, the chemical changes of acromegaly result in exceptional growth of long bones. This variant is called gigantism, with the additional bone growth causing unusual height. When the abnormality occurs after bone growth stops, the disorder is called acromegaly.

Description

Acromegaly is a relatively rare disorder, occurring in approximately 50 out of every one million people (50/1,000,000). Both men and women are affected. Because the symptoms of acromegaly occur so gradually, diagnosis is often delayed. The majority of patients are not identified until they are middle aged.

Causes and symptoms

The pituitary is a small gland located at the base of the brain. A gland is a collection of cells that releases certain chemicals, or hormones, which are important to the functioning of other organs or body systems. The pituitary hormones travel throughout the body and are involved in a large number of activities, including the regulation of growth and reproductive functions. The cause of acromegaly can be traced to the pituitary's production of GH.

Under normal conditions, the pituitary receives input from another brain structure, the hypothalamus, located at the base of the brain. This input from the hypothalamus regulates the pituitary's release of hormones. For example, the hypothalamus produces growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), which directs the pituitary to release GH. Input from the hypothalamus should also direct the pituitary to stop releasing hormones.

In acromegaly, the pituitary continues to release GH and ignores signals from the hypothalamus. In the liver, GH causes production of a hormone called insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which is responsible for growth throughout the body. When the pituitary refuses to stop producing GH, the levels of IGF-1 also reach abnormal peaks. Bones, soft tissue, and organs throughout the body begin to enlarge, and the body changes its ability to process and use nutrients like sugars and fats.

KEY TERMS

Adenoma A type of noncancerous (benign) tumor that often involves the overgrowth of certain cells found in glands.

Gland A collection of cells that releases certain chemicals, or hormones, that are important to the functioning of other organs or body systems.

Hormone A chemical produced in one part of the body that travels to another part of the body in order to exert an effect.

Hypothalamus A structure within the brain responsible for a large number of normal functions throughout the body, including regulating sleep, temperature, eating, and sexual development. The hypothalamus also regulates the functions of the pituitary gland by directing the pituitary to stop or start production of its hormones.

Pituitary A gland located at the base of the brain that produces a number of hormones, including those that regulate growth and reproductive functions. Overproduction of the pituitary hormone called growth hormone (GH) is responsible for the condition known as acromegaly.

In acromegaly, an individual's hands and feet begin to grow, becoming thick and doughy. The jaw line, nose, and forehead also grow, and facial features are described as "coarsening". The tongue grows larger, and because the jaw is larger, the teeth become more widely spaced. Due to swelling within the structures of the throat and sinuses, the voice becomes deeper and sounds more hollow, and patients may develop loud snoring. Various hormonal changes cause symptoms such as:

  • heavy sweating
  • oily skin
  • increased coarse body hair
  • improper processing of sugars in the diet (and sometimes actual diabetes)
  • high blood pressure
  • increased calcium in the urine (sometimes leading to kidney stones)
  • increased risk of gallstones ; and
  • swelling of the thyroid gland

People with acromegaly have more skin tags, or outgrowths of tissue, than normal. This increase in skin tags is also associated with the development of growths, called polyps, within the large intestine that may eventually become cancerous. Patients with acromegaly often suffer from headaches and arthritis. The various swellings and enlargements throughout the body may press on nerves, causing sensations of local tingling or burning, and sometimes result in muscle weakness.

The most common cause of this disorder (in 90% of patients) is the development of a noncancerous tumor within the pituitary, called a pituitary adenoma. These tumors are the source of the abnormal release of GH. As these tumors grow, they may press on nearby structures within the brain, causing headaches and changes in vision. As the adenoma grows, it may disrupt other pituitary tissue, interfering with the release of other hormones. These disruptions may be responsible for changes in the menstrual cycle of women, decreases in the sexual drive in men and women, and the abnormal production of breast milk in women. In rare cases, acromegaly is caused by the abnormal production of GHRH, which leads to the increased production of GH. Certain tumors in the pancreas, lungs, adrenal glands, thyroid, and intestine produce GHRH, which in turn triggers production of an abnormal quantity of GH.

Diagnosis

Because acromegaly produces slow changes over time, diagnosis is often significantly delayed. In fact, the characteristic coarsening of the facial features is often not recognized by family members, friends, or long-time family physicians. Often, the diagnosis is suspected by a new physician who sees the patient for the first time and is struck by the patient's characteristic facial appearance. Comparing old photographs from a number of different time periods will often increase suspicion of the disease.

Because the quantity of GH produced varies widely under normal conditions, demonstrating high levels of GH in the blood is not sufficient to merit a diagnosis of acromegaly. Instead, laboratory tests measuring an increase of IGF-1 (3-10 times above the normal level) are useful. These results, however, must be carefully interpreted because normal laboratory values for IGF-1 vary when the patient is pregnant, undergoing puberty, elderly, or severely malnourished. Normal patients will show a decrease in GH production when given a large dose of sugar (glucose). Patients with acromegaly will not show this decrease, and will often show an increase in GH production. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is useful for viewing the pituitary, and for identifying and locating an adenoma. When no adenoma can be located, the search for a GHRH-producing tumor in another location begins.

Treatment

The first step in treatment of acromegaly is removal of all or part of the pituitary adenoma. Removal requires surgery, usually performed by entering the skull through the nose. While this surgery can cause rapid improvement of many acromegaly symptoms, most patients will also require additional treatment with medication. Bromocriptine (Parlodel) is a medication that can be taken by mouth, while octreotide (Sandostatin) must be injected every eight hours. Both of these medications are helpful in reducing GH production, but must often be taken for life and produce their own unique side effects. Some patients who cannot undergo surgery are treated with radiation therapy to the pituitary in an attempt to shrink the adenoma. Radiating the pituitary may take up to 10 years, however, and may also injure/destroy other normal parts of the pituitary.

Prognosis

Without treatment, patients with acromegaly will most likely die early because of the disease's effects on the heart, lungs, brain, or due to the development of cancer in the large intestine. With treatment, however, a patient with acromegaly may be able to live a normal lifespan.

Resources

BOOKS

Biller, Beverly M. K., and Gilbert H. Daniels. "Growth Hormone Excess: Acromegaly and Gigantism." In Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, edited by Anthony S. Fauci, et al. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1997.

ORGANIZATIONS

Pituitary Tumor Network Association. 16350 Ventura Blvd., #231, Encino, CA 91436. (805) 499-9973.

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acromegaly

acromegaly (ăk´rōmĕg´əlē), adult endocrine disorder resulting from hypersecretion of growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland. Since the bones cannot increase in length after full growth is attained, there is a disproportionate thickening of bones, predominantly in the skull and small bones of the hands and feet. Fingers and toes become broadened and spadelike, the skull increases in size, and the cheek bones and jaws protrude. Many of the soft tissues, such as the tongue and liver, enlarge. Frequently glucose metabolism is disturbed, leading to diabetes mellitus. Acromegaly is usually caused by a tumor of the pituitary; treatment consists of irradiation or surgical removal of the tumor. Onset of the disease can also occur in children, before the epiphyses of the bones are closed. In such cases the disorder leads to gigantism.

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acromegaly

acromegaly A chronic condition developing in adulthood due to overproduction of (or oversensitivity to) growth hormone, usually caused by a tumour in the pituitary gland. This leads to a gradual enlargement of the bones, causing characteristic coarsening of the facial features and large hands and feet.

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acromegaly

acromegaly (ak-roh-meg-ăli) n. overgrowth of soft tissues and bones due to excessive secretion of growth hormone, usually by a benign tumour of the anterior pituitary gland.

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Acromegaly

Acromegaly

Definition

Acromegaly is a rare condition caused by abnormally high amounts of human growth hormone (HGH). An organ in the brain known as the pituitary gland, normally secretes this growth hormone. Normal amounts of HGH are needed for normal growth and physical maturity in children. However, in acromegaly, there is an increased amount of HGH released, generally by a tumor that forms in the pituitary. Untreated, acromegaly can lead to numerous disabling conditions, as well as a significantly decreased life span.

Description

Acromegaly was first described in scientific detail by the French physician, Pierre Marie. In 1886, Dr. Marie, along with his assistant, Souza-Leite, described in detail 48 patients with acromegaly. These patients all exhibited a rapid growth in their height; significantly enlarged hands and feet; change in appearance of their faces; frequent headaches; and a high incidence of visual problems. Dr. Marie believed all of these problems were due to a defect in the patients' pituitary gland, a small glandular structure located in the middle of the brain.

While Dr. Marie was the first to formally state that a problem in the pituitary gland was responsible for the condition of acromegaly, the link between pituitary defects and acromegaly remained controversial for many years. It was not until 1909, when Dr. Harvey Cushing introduced the concepts of hyperpituitarism in reference to acromegaly, that the association became generally accepted. Dr. Cushing believed acromegaly was due to the pituitary gland, a small structure located deep in the brain and known to be somehow involved in growth, oversecreting some type of substance that caused patients to become "giants." Dr. Cushing also put forth the idea that the over-activity of the pituitary gland was caused by a tumor in the gland, an idea that was proven by autopsies done on patients with acromegaly. At the time, however, it still was not clear how a tumor in the pituitary gland could cause such changes in people afflicted with the tumor.

In the decades after World War II, the structure and function of the pituitary gland was further studied. Dr. Herbert Evans at the University of California at Berkley was the first to isolate many secretions, also known as hormones, which were found to be made in and secreted from the pituitary gland. One of these hormones was found to be human growth hormone, or HGH. It was also discovered that certain tumors can form in the pituitary gland and secrete high levels of HGH, resulting in abnormal growth and, as time progresses, acromegaly.

Acromegaly is a rare condition, with only about 1,000 cases per year in the United States among a total population of 250 million. Its striking consequence of excessive height has caused it to remain a fascinating disease among both scientists, doctors, and the public. Besides causing great height and unusual facial features, it is now known that acromegaly also causes serious conditions that can be life threatening, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, arthritis, neuromuscular problems, and diabetes. With early detection and treatment, the consequences of acromegaly can be minimized and patients afflicted with the condition can lead mainly healthy, productive lives.

Genetic profile

The genetics behind the majority of cases of acromegaly is still poorly understood. The most common cause of acromegaly is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor in the pituitary gland that secretes HGH. It is known that the benign tumor arises from cells in the pituitary gland, possibly due to a defect in the pituitary gland itself. The gene responsible for this tumor formation is unknown.

Even though the genetics of tumor formation in the pituitary gland leading to most cases of acromegaly is not yet known, there are other conditions that lead to acromegaly in which the genetic causes of the conditions are known. In a very rare condition, called familial acromegaly, there is a gene on chromosome 11 believed to cause the formation and growth of an HGH-secreting tumor in the pituitary gland. Familial acromegaly is transmitted in an autosomal dominant pattern—which means that it has an equal chance of affecting both boys and girls in a single family. This condition can also cause tumors in other areas of the body besides the pituitary, including the parathyroid gland, which controls the amount of calcium in the bloodstream, and the pancreas, which regulates insulin needed for the body to process sugars.

Another uncommon condition causing HGH-secreting tumors in the pituitary gland is called multiple endocrine neoplasia-1, or MEN-1. This is an autosomal dominant condition characterized by a combination of pituitary, parathyroid, and pancreatic tumors. The gene for this condition has also been found on chromosome 11 and is known as the MEN-1 gene. About half the patients with this abnormal gene will eventually develop acromegaly.

Carney syndrome is a rare autosomal dominant disorder that can cause HGH-secreting pituitary tumors and acromegaly in about 20% of patients who have the syndrome. Carney syndrome is associated with a defective gene on chromosome 2. Besides acromegaly, people with Carney syndrome also frequently have abnormal skin pigmentation, heart tumors, and tumors of the testicles and adrenal glands.

McCune-Albright syndrome is a very rare disorder that can cause acromegaly through HGH-secreting tumors in the pituitary. Other conditions associated with this syndrome are polycystic fibrous dysplasia (affecting bone growth, especially in the pelvis and long bones of the arms and legs), abnormal skin pigmentation, early puberty, and thyroid problems. The gene for the syndrome, named GNAS1, is located on chromosome 20.

Demographics

Acromegaly is a very rare condition. It is estimated to occur in about 30-60 individuals per million people. Both males and females seem to be affected equally. There also does not seem to be any difference in secondary complications of acromegaly between males and females. The condition has been recorded at all ages of life, from early childhood into old age. The frequency of chronic complications increases with age in both men and women.

Most cases of acromegaly are detected on an initial visit to a family physician, although some early or mild cases may be missed, causing a delay in the diagnosis. Some patients with acromegaly are initially diagnosed in specialty clinics, such as cardiology clinics and diabetic clinics when they present with secondary problems caused by the condition.

There is very little data on the differences of the occurrence of acromegaly among various ethnic and racial lines. The few studies that have been done show no real difference among racial or ethnic groups, with acromegaly showing up equally in Caucasians, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of acromegaly can range from striking to almost unseen. The most visible signs of the condition are greatly increased height and coarse facial features. People with acromegaly who have not received treatment early in the course of their condition have grown to be well over seven feet tall. Almost always with this spurt in height there is coarsening of facial features due to abnormal growth of the facial bones. Another very noticeable feature is enlargement of both the hands and feet, which, like the abnormal facial features, is the product of hormones and results in increased bone growth.

Other, less visible signs of acromegaly are increased sweating, constant and at times debilitating headaches, visual disturbances, and increase in hair growth. Loss of sexual desire is often seen in both men and women. Amenorrhea, the stopping of menstruation, is often a secondary condition associated with acromegaly in women.

There are further secondary complications of acromegaly that are not visible but can be life threatening. People with acromegaly are at greater risk for developing high blood pressure, cardiac disease, high cholesterol levels, arthritis and other degenerative diseases of the joints and spine, and diabetes. Acromegly also increases the risk of other tumors, some of them cancerous, in other areas of the body, especially the breast, colon, and to a lesser degree, prostate.

With adequate treatment, especially early in the course of the condition, many of the secondary symptoms of acromegaly can be halted or even reversed. Less life-threatening complications, such as headaches, visual problems, and increased sweating can be almost eliminated after adequate and timely treatment. More serious conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes can be brought under control with treatment, although many times not totally eliminated.

Diagnosis

For most forms of acromegaly, there are no genetic tests yet available to diagnosis the condition in newborns or before birth. Diagnosis is made by recognizing the clinical signs and symptoms previously described. In certain very rare conditions such as multiple endocrine neoplasia-1 and Carney syndrome, the genetics of the conditions are known and can theoretically be tested for. However, the conditions are so seldom encountered that unless a family member has the condition, genetic testing is usually not done until clinical signs and symptoms are apparent.

Treatment and management

The treatment and management of acromegaly has evolved over the past one hundred years from crude surgery to genetically engineered medications. Today, through precise surgery and medications, a large percentage of patients with acromegaly can have their symptoms brought under control, and in some cases totally cured.

The goal of all therapies, be it surgery or medications, is a reduction in the level of HGH to levels seen in people without acromegaly. This goal can be achieved either through the removal or destruction of the tumor secreting the hormone, inhibition of HGH from the tumor, or blocking the effects of increased HGH on organs and other body systems outside the pituitary.

Surgical removal of the pituitary tumor is still the first treatment of choice for acromegaly. The rate at which a cure is achieved is determined by several factors, including the size of the tumor, whether or not it has spread outside the pituitary, and the level of HGH before the surgery. In patients with small tumors confined to the pituitary and exhibiting only moderately high HGH levels, the cure rate can be as high as 80–90%. In patients with larger tumors, especially those extending out of the pituitary, cure rates with surgery can be reduced to 40–60%.

Radiation therapy is often a second line choice of treatment for acromegaly, especially in patients who have not achieved a cure with surgery. The treatment of acromegaly with radiation was used early on in the history of the condition, with the first report being written in 1909. Careful application of radiation can significantly reduce the size of pituitary tumors, subsequently decreasing high HGH levels. However, this decrease is often very slow, and it can take over ten years for the HGH levels to drop to normal. Treatment with radiation can also have significant side effects, including damage to the pituitary gland itself, visual loss, and brain damage. Some studies have also suggested that treatment with radiation can lead to tumor formation in other areas of the brain.

The use of medications in the treatment of acromegaly has gained importance over the past few decades in the treatment of the condition. Medications available today include Bromocriptine, octreotide and lanreotide, and a genetically engineered HGH receptor antagonist known as Pegvisomant. All of these medications are generally used in combination with surgery or radiation, although there is debate whether or not the medications could or should be used as first-line agents.

Bromocriptine is known as a dopamine agonist, and was one of the first pharmaceutical agents to be used to lower HGH levels in acromegaly. However, bromocriptine is not effective in a majority of cases, and the medications octreotide and lanreotide have supplemented its use. These medications are also known as somatostatin analogues. They decrease both the size of HGH-secreting pituitary tumors and the secretion of HGH itself. In multiple studies, they have been shown to normalize HGH levels in about 50% of cases and show significant tumor shrinkage in 45% of cases. The drawbacks to using both octreotide and lanreotide include multiple weekly dosing over a 12-month period, as well as acute side effects such as nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. Also, long term use of these medications results in an increased risk of developing gallstones.

Pegvisomant is a unique, recently developed genetically engineered HGH receptor antagonist. This medication does not decrease the amount of HGH secreted from pituitary tumors; rather, it desensitizes other organs of the body to the effects of the increased HGH circulating in the body. In medical trials, Pegvisomant was well tolerated and resulted in significant symptomatic improvement. It is hoped that with a combination of surgery to decrease the tumor size and the use of a HGH antagonist like Pegvisomant, both the acute and chronic debilitating symptoms of acromegaly can be greatly diminished, if not totally eliminated.

Prognosis

The prognosis for patients with acromegaly who receive prompt treatment is good, although there are still complications. Patients who do not receive treatment, or those who receive it late in the course of the condition, have frequent and debilitating secondary complications as well as a greater chance for early death.

There are only a few reliable studies examining the overall health benefits of treatment versus no treatment for patients with acromegaly. One study showed that those receiving treatment before the age of 40 years had a much better chance of not developing serious complications then those who were treated after 40 years of age. Those receiving earlier treatment had less chance of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, as well as other secondary complications of the condition.

Even with treatment, mortality rates for people with acromegaly are increased when compared to the rest of the population. The principal causes of early death are cardiac disease, strokes, cancer , and respiratory failure. The level of HGH after treatment appears to offer the best statistics for predicting early mortality, with higher levels of post-treatment HGH corresponding to a greater, earlier mortality risk.

Resources

BOOKS

Braunwald, Eugene, Anthony S. Fauci, Dennis L. Kasper, Stephen L. Hauser, Dan L. Longo, and J. Larry Jameson. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 15th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing, 2001.

Gelehrter, T., F. Collins, and D. Ginsburg. Principles of Medical Genetics. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1998.

PERIODICALS

Stewart, Paul M. "Current Therapy of Acromegaly." Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism 11, no. 4 (May/June 2000): 128–132.

Wass, John A. H. "Acromegaly." Pitutary 2, no. 1 (June 1999): 7–91.

WEBSITES

Acromegaly Information Center.<http://www.acromegaly.com>.

Update on Acromegaly.<www.dotpharmacy.com>.

Edward R Rosick, DO, MPH, MS

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Acromegaly

Acromegaly

Definition

Acromegaly is a rare condition caused by abnormally high amounts of human growth hormone (HGH). An organ in the brain known as the pituitary gland, normally secretes this growth hormone. Normal amounts of HGH are needed for normal growth and physical maturity in children. However, in acromegaly, there is an increased amount of HGH released, generally by a tumor that forms in the pituitary. Untreated, acromegaly can lead to numerous disabling conditions, as well as a significantly decreased life span.

Description

Acromegaly was first described in scientific detail by the French physician, Pierre Marie. In 1886, Dr. Marie, along with his assistant, Souza-Leite, described in detail 48 patients with acromegaly. These patients all exhibited a rapid growth in their height; significantly enlarged hands and feet; change in appearance of their faces; frequent headaches; and a high incidence of visual problems. Dr. Marie believed all of these problems were due to a defect in the patients' pituitary gland, a small glandular structure located in the middle of the brain.

While Dr. Marie was the first to formally state that a problem in the pituitary gland was responsible for the condition of acromegaly, the link between pituitary defects and acromegaly remained controversial for many years. It was not until 1909, when Dr. Harvey Cushing introduced the concepts of hyperpituitarism in reference to acromegaly, that the association became generally accepted. Dr. Cushing believed acromegaly was due to the pituitary gland, a small structure located deep in the brain and known to be somehow involved in growth, over-secreting some type of substance that caused patients to become "giants." Dr. Cushing also put forth the idea that the over-activity of the pituitary gland was caused by a tumor in the gland, an idea that was proven by autopsies done on patients with acromegaly. At the time, however, it still was not clear how a tumor in the pituitary gland could cause such changes in people afflicted with the tumor.

In the decades after World War II, the structure and function of the pituitary gland was further studied. Dr. Herbert Evans at the University of California at Berkley was the first to isolate many secretions, also known as hormones, which were found to be made in and secreted from the pituitary gland. One of these hormones was found to be human growth hormone, or HGH. It was also discovered that certain tumors can form in the pituitary gland and secrete high levels of HGH, resulting in abnormal growth and, as time progresses, acromegaly.

Acromegaly is a rare condition, with only about 1,000 cases per year in the United States among a total population of 250 million. Its striking consequence of excessive height has caused it to remain a fascinating disease among both scientists, doctors, and the public. Besides causing great height and unusual facial features, it is now known that acromegaly also causes serious conditions that can be life threatening, such as heart disease, respiratory disease, arthritis, neuromuscular problems, and diabetes . With early detection and treatment, the consequences of acromegaly can be minimized and patients afflicted with the condition can lead mainly healthy, productive lives.

Genetic profile

The genetics behind the majority of cases of acromegaly is still poorly understood. The most common cause of acromegaly is a benign (non-cancerous) tumor in the pituitary gland that secretes HGH. It is known that the benign tumor arises from cells in the pituitary gland, possibly due to a defect in the pituitary gland itself. The gene responsible for this tumor formation is unknown.

Even though the genetics of tumor formation in the pituitary gland leading to most cases of acromegaly is not yet known, there are other conditions that lead to acromegaly in which the genetic causes of the conditions are known. In a very rare condition called familial acromegaly, there is a gene on chromosome 11 believed to cause the formation and growth of an HGH-secreting tumor in the pituitary gland. Familial acromegaly is transmitted in an autosomal dominant pattern—which means that it has an equal chance of affecting both boys and girls in a single family. This condition can also cause tumors in other areas of the body besides the pituitary, including the parathyroid gland, which controls the amount of calcium in the bloodstream, and the pancreas, which regulates insulin needed for the body to process sugars.

Another uncommon condition causing HGH-secreting tumors in the pituitary gland is called multiple endocrine neoplasia-1, or MEN-1. This is an autosomal dominant condition characterized by a combination of pituitary, parathyroid, and pancreatic tumors. The gene for this condition has also been found on chromosome 11 and is known as the MEN-1 gene. About half the patients with this abnormal gene will eventually develop acromegaly.

Carney syndrome is a rare autosomal dominant disorder that can cause HGH-secreting pituitary tumors and acromegaly in about 20% of patients who have the syndrome. Carney syndrome is associated with a defective gene on chromosome 2. Besides acromegaly, people with Carney syndrome also frequently have abnormal skin pigmentation, heart tumors, and tumors of the testicles and adrenal glands.

McCune-Albright syndrome is a very rare disorder that can cause acromegaly through HGH-secreting tumors in the pituitary. Other conditions associated with this syndrome are polycystic fibrous dysplasia (affecting bone growth, especially in the pelvis and long bones of the arms and legs), abnormal skin pigmentation, early puberty, and thyroid problems. The gene for the syndrome, named GNAS1, is located on chromosome 20.

Demographics

Acromegaly is a very rare condition. It is estimated to occur in about 30-60 individuals per million people. Both males and females seem to be affected equally. There also does not seem to be any difference in secondary complications of acromegaly between males and females. The condition has been recorded at all ages of life, from early childhood into old age. The frequency of chronic complications increases with age in both men and women.

Most cases of acromegaly are detected on an initial visit to a family physician, although some early or mild cases may be missed, causing a delay in the diagnosis. Some patients with acromegaly are initially diagnosed in specialty clinics, such as cardiology clinics and diabetic clinics when they present with secondary problems caused by the condition.

There is very little data on the differences of the occurrence of acromegaly among various ethic and racial lines. The few studies that have been done show no real difference among racial or ethnic groups, with acromegaly showing up equally in Caucasians, African-Americans, and Asian-Americans.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of acromegaly can range from striking to almost unseen. The most visible signs of the condition are greatly increased height and coarse facial features. People with acromegaly who have not received treatment early in the course of their condition have grown to be well over seven feet tall. Almost always with this spurt in height there is coarsening of facial features due to abnormal growth of the facial bones. Another very noticeable feature is enlargement of both the hands and feet, which, like the abnormal facial features, is the product of hormones and results in increased bone growth.

Other less visible, yet common, signs of acromegaly are increased sweating, constant and at times debilitating

headaches, visual disturbances, and increase in hair growth. Loss of sexual desire is often seen in both men and women. Amenorrhea, the cessation of menses (stop-ping of menstruation), is often a secondary condition associated with acromegaly in women.

There are further secondary complications of acromegaly that are not visible but can be life threatening. People with acromegaly are at greater risk for developing high blood pressure, cardiac disease, high cholesterol levels, arthritis and other degenerative diseases of the joints and spine, and diabetes. Acromegly also increases the risk of other tumors, some of them cancerous, in other areas of the body, especially the breast, colon, and to a lesser degree, prostate.

With adequate treatment, especially early in the course of the condition, many of the secondary symptoms of acromegaly can be halted or even reversed. Less life-threatening complications, such as headaches, visual problems and increased sweating can be almost eliminated after adequate and timely treatment. More serious conditions such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes can be brought under control with treatment, although many times not totally eliminated.

Diagnosis

For most forms of acromegaly, there are no genetic tests yet available to diagnosis the condition in newborns or before birth. Diagnosis is made by recognizing the clinical signs and symptoms previously described. In certain very rare conditions such as multiple endocrine neoplasia-1 and Carney syndrome, the genetics of the conditions are known and can theoretically be tested for. However, the conditions are so seldom encountered that unless a family member has the condition, genetic testing

is usually not done until clinical signs and symptoms are apparent.

Treatment and management

The treatment and management of acromegaly has evolved over the past one hundred years from crude surgery to genetically engineered medications. Today, through precise surgery and medications, a large percentage of patients with acromegaly can have their symptoms brought under control, and in some cases totally cured.

The goal of all therapies, be it surgery or medications, is a reduction in the level of HGH to levels seen in people without acromegaly. This goal can be achieved either through the removal or destruction of the tumor secreting the hormone, inhibition of HGH from the tumor, or blocking the effects of increased HGH on organs and other body systems outside the pituitary.

Surgical removal of the pituitary tumor is still the first treatment of choice for acromegaly. The rate at which a cure is achieved is determined by several factors, including the size of the tumor, whether or not it has spread outside the pituitary, and the level of HGH before the surgery. In patients with small tumors confined to the pituitary and exhibiting only moderately high HGH levels, the cure rate can be as high as 80–90%. In patients with larger tumors, especially those extending out of the pituitary, cure rates with surgery can be reduced to 40–60%.

Radiation therapy is often a second line choice of treatment for acromegaly, especially in patients who have not achieved a cure with surgery. The treatment of acromegaly with radiation was used early on in the history of the condition, with the first report being written in 1909. Careful application of radiation can significantly reduce the size of pituitary tumors, subsequently decreasing high HGH levels. However, this decrease is often very slow, and it can take over ten years for the HGH levels to drop to normal. Treatment with radiation can also have significant side effects, including damage to the pituitary gland itself, visual loss, and brain damage. Some studies have also suggested that treatment with radiation can lead to tumor formation in other areas of the brain.

The use of medications in the treatment of acromegaly has gained importance over the past few decades in the treatment of the condition. Medications available today include Bromocriptine, octreotide and lanreotide, and a genetically engineered HGH receptor antagonist known as Pegvisomant. All of these medications are generally used in combination with surgery or radiation, although there is debate whether or not the medications could or should be used as first-line agents.

Bromocriptine is known as a dopamine agonist, and was one of the first pharmaceutical agents to be used to lower HGH levels in acromegaly. However, bromocriptine is not effective in a majority of cases, and the medications octreotide and lanreotide have supplemented its use. These medications are also known as somatostatin analogues. They decrease both the size of HGH-secreting pituitary tumors and the secretion of HGH itself. In multiple studies, they have been shown to normalize HGH levels in about 50% of cases and show significant tumor shrinkage in 45% of cases. The drawbacks to using both octreotide and lanreotide include multiple weekly dosing over a 12-month period, as well as acute side effects such as nausea, stomach pain, and diarrhea. Also, long term use of these medications results in an increased risk of developing gallstones.

Pegvisomant is a unique, recently developed genetically engineered HGH receptor antagonist. This medication does not decrease the amount of HGH secreted from pituitary tumors; rather, it desensitizes other organs of the body to the effects of the increased HGH circulating in the body. In medical trials, Pegvisomant was well tolerated and resulted in significant symptomatic improvement. It is hoped that with a combination of surgery to decrease the tumor size and the use of a HGH antagonist like Pegvisomant, both the acute and chronic debilitating symptoms of acromegaly can be greatly diminished, if not totally eliminated.

Prognosis

The prognosis for patients with acromegaly who receive prompt treatment is good, although there are still complications. Patients who do not receive treatment, or those who receive it late in the course of the condition, have frequent and debilitating secondary complications as well as a greater chance for early death.

There are only a few reliable studies examining the overall health benefits of treatment versus no treatment for patients with acromegaly. One study showed that those receiving treatment before the age of 40 years had a much better chance of not developing serious complications then those who were treated after 40 years of age. Those receiving earlier treatment had less chance of developing heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes, as well as other secondary complications of the condition.

Even with treatment, mortality rates for people with acromegaly are increased when compared to the rest of the population. The principal causes of early death are cardiac disease, strokes, cancer , and respiratory failure. The level of HGH after treatment appears to offer the best statistics for predicting early mortality, with higher levels of post-treatment HGH corresponding to a greater, earlier mortality risk.

Resources

BOOKS

Braunwald, Eugene, et al. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine. 15th ed. New York: McGraw-Hill Publishing, 2001.

Gelehrter, T., F. Collins, and D. Ginsburg. Principles of Medical Genetics. Baltimore: Williams and Wilkins, 1998.

PERIODICALS

Stewart, Paul M. "Current Therapy of Acromegaly." Trends in Endocrinology and Metabolism 11, no. 4 (May/June 2000): 128–132.

Wass, John A. H. "Acromegaly." Pitutary 2, no. 1 (June 1999): 7–91.

WEBSITES

Acromegaly Information Center. <http://www.acromegaly.com>.

Update on Acromegaly. <www.dotpharmacy.com>.

Edward R Rosick, DO, MPH, MS

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

  • MLA
  • Chicago
  • APA

"Acromegaly." Gale Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders. . Encyclopedia.com. 16 Sep. 2018 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Acromegaly." Gale Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 16, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/acromegaly-0

"Acromegaly." Gale Encyclopedia of Genetic Disorders. . Retrieved September 16, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/science/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/acromegaly-0

Learn more about citation styles

Citation styles

Encyclopedia.com gives you the ability to cite reference entries and articles according to common styles from the Modern Language Association (MLA), The Chicago Manual of Style, and the American Psychological Association (APA).

Within the “Cite this article” tool, pick a style to see how all available information looks when formatted according to that style. Then, copy and paste the text into your bibliography or works cited list.

Because each style has its own formatting nuances that evolve over time and not all information is available for every reference entry or article, Encyclopedia.com cannot guarantee each citation it generates. Therefore, it’s best to use Encyclopedia.com citations as a starting point before checking the style against your school or publication’s requirements and the most-recent information available at these sites:

Modern Language Association

http://www.mla.org/style

The Chicago Manual of Style

http://www.chicagomanualofstyle.org/tools_citationguide.html

American Psychological Association

http://apastyle.apa.org/

Notes:
  • Most online reference entries and articles do not have page numbers. Therefore, that information is unavailable for most Encyclopedia.com content. However, the date of retrieval is often important. Refer to each style’s convention regarding the best way to format page numbers and retrieval dates.
  • In addition to the MLA, Chicago, and APA styles, your school, university, publication, or institution may have its own requirements for citations. Therefore, be sure to refer to those guidelines when editing your bibliography or works cited list.