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Acromegaly

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Growth hormones are natural occurrences in a human being. It is significant in the development of the body. However, growth hormones must be produced under regulated terms otherwise, they could cause serious disorders that distort a person’s features.

Acromegaly disease is a common effect of excessive growth hormone (HGH) levels. The term is rooted from the Greek words ‘akros’ and ‘megalos’, which are translated literally as “extremities enlargement”. Acromegaly, therefore, is a syndrome that results in severe disfigurement or enlargement of a physical feature.

Growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland. Irregularity in this gland may result to overproduction of growth hormones which then leads to Acromegaly.

ACROMEGALY SYMPTOMS

Acromegaly is often found in twenty-something individuals but the symptoms may occur at any point in life. If Acromegaly is not treated immediately, it can lead to serious complications and can even be fatal. The good news is that Acromegaly can be treated in most cases. However, the absence of noticeable symptoms at the onset allows for the condition to worsen even before it was diagnosed. In which case, other health conditions may already occur alongside the syndrome.

A host of abnormalities in the pituitary gland can be blamed for Acromegaly. The condition, popularly known in the medical world as pituitary adenoma, is found to be the most common. The presence of benign tumors derived from somatotrophs cells overworks the pituitary gland, making it produce excessive levels of growth hormones.

ACROMEGALY CAUSES

Although it rarely happens, Acromegaly is also found rooted from tumors that are not in the pituitary gland. Bumps in the pancreas, some parts of the brain, and in the lungs may also cause the chronic overproduction of growth hormones. Such tumors may produce growth hormones themselves or may trigger the pituitary gland to produce more than what the body actually needs.

Gigantism is mostly associated with Acromegaly. It must be clear, however, that gigantism occurs to children who develops tumor that produces excessive levels of growth hormones even before the growth plates fuse. The growth hormones in this case cause an increased height, which cannot be possible with old age.

Acromegaly often occurs with very mild symptoms at the onset. The early symptoms are often missed for years unless distortion in the external features starts to occur.

The abnormal growth of hands and feet, changes in specific facial bones, and mild arthritis are just some of the early symptoms that are often disregarded as anything out of the ordinary. Spaced out teeth, nasal bone enlargement, and protruded brows and jaws can be mistaken as just normal for any individual. Such symptoms, however, are sure signs of Acromegaly, especially if they came with several health discomforts as joint aches, oily skin, deepening of the voice, sleep apnea, fatigue, chronic head aches, impaired vision, and decreased libido among others.
acromegaly
Image: Acromegaly


If the overproduction of the growth hormones continues, it can create serious damage in the body’s vital organs. Enlargement of the heart is one of the most dangerous scenario because it can trigger an increased risk for hypertension and other cardiovascular diseases. Acromegaly can also cause Diabetes and Colon Cancer.

Pituitary Adenoma is found to occur frequently. However, not all those who develop such tumors cause symptoms or irregularities in the processes of the pituitary gland. About four out of one million people have been estimated to have Acromegaly. That number becomes misleading considering the fact that most Acromegaly cases remain undetected.

ACROMEGALY DIAGNOSIS

Acromegaly diagnosis involves a series of blood tests, MRI, and CT scan.

Blood tests are administered to measure the growth hormone levels in the blood. But since the pituitary gland often secretes growth hormones in spurts, normal blood tests cannot possibly measure if the growth hormones are elevated. To ensure accurate diagnosis, patients are given an oral glucose solution before the blood test is administered. This is called the oral glucose tolerance test. In people without Acromegaly, a glucose solution of about 75 to 100 grams suppresses the growth hormone levels in the blood and leaves it to a maximum of 1 ng/ml. In people with Acromegaly, a glucose solution would have no effect on the growth hormone levels.

MRI or magnetic resonance imaging test of the pituitary gland is used to detect the actual site and size of the tumor that causes the overproduction. In patients who are not fit to undergo an MRI scan, a CT or computerized tomography scan is rather performed. Since MRI involves powerful magnets, it is not applicable to patients who have metal implants such as a pacemaker. No tumor is too tiny to be detected by such a sensitive imaging procedure as the MRI. If the scan of the pituitary gland shows no results, the doctor would naturally look for tumors in other possible sites in the brain, the chest, the abdomen, and the pelvis.

ACROMEGALY TREATMENT

At present, there are three effective modes of treatment for Acromegaly. One of them is surgery. Surgical removal of the tumor that causes the overproduction of growth hormones is found to be one of the most effective means of controlling the progress of Acromegaly. It is often the first line of treatment because its effect occurs rapidly.

The use of medication meant to get in the way of growth hormones production and tumor size reduction is often administered before and after surgery. SSAs or Somatostatin analogs are usually prescribed to reduce the size of the tumor before surgery. It is also found as an effective backup remedy if surgery does not cure the problem completely.


Radiation therapy, meanwhile, is used when the use of the other two treatments failed to alleviate the problem. This is often the resort for patients with remaining tumors even after surgery and for those who does not respond to medications. Unlike the other two types of treatment, radiation therapy comes with it a host of side effects that can cause more risk factors than cure.

The common goals of the medical treatments for Acromegaly include regulation of hormone production, to offer relief from the pressure that the pituitary tumor exerts in other parts of the brain, and of course, alleviation of the patient’s symptoms.

None of the treatments mentioned above has been found to be uniformly effective to all patients of Acromegaly. As with any kind of health disorders, treatment for Acromegaly should be individualized, on a case-to-case basis.
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