What is acromegaly?

Acromegaly is a rare condition characterised by abnormal enlargement of the face, feet, and hands at adulthood, and by excessive height (gigantism) when it occurs before puberty.

It is caused by hypersecretion of growth hormone (GH) (also known as somatotropin, or STH) by the pituitary gland, a small gland located in the brain. Clinical manifestations of acromegaly include thickening and enlargement of the hands and feet, coarsening of facial features, deformation of the rib cage or spine, and excess sweating.

Acromegaly affects men and women alike and has an incidence of five new cases per million people per year. However, many patients do not know that they have it because the time between the onset of the symptoms and diagnosis often exceeds 10 years.

Causes of acromegaly

Acromegaly is primarily caused by excess secretion of hormones by the pituitary gland:
- Ninety-five percent of cases of acromegaly are caused by pituitary adenomas, benign tumours that occur in the pituitary gland and which cause it to become enlarged and produce excess growth hormone.
- Less than 1% of cases of acromegaly are caused by hyperpituitarism — overactivity of the pituitary gland due to uncontrolled secretion of growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH) — which stimulates the pituitary gland and the release of growth hormone in the body.
- There are some rare, isolated cases of familial (i.e. hereditary) acromegaly.
- In some cases, the cause of acromegaly is unknown.

I have acromegaly

It is essential that you seek proper treatment to reduce the impact of the disease on your daily life and avoid cardiovascular and other complications. There are currently three treatments that alleviate the symptoms of acromegaly, halt tumour growth, and bring growth hormone secretion under control. You can find more information on the Acromegaly Forum.

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