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Acromegaly Overview

Acromegaly is a serious condition that occurs when the body produces too much of the hormones that control growth.

  • The hormone most often affected is called growth hormone, or GH. It is produced by the pituitary gland, a tiny organ at the base of the brain.
  • Growth hormone promotes growth of bone, cartilage, muscle, organs, and other tissues.
  • When there is too much growth hormone in the body, these tissues grow larger than normal. This excessive growth can cause serious disease and even premature death.

The term acromegaly comes from Greek words meaning “extremities” and “enlargement.” Enlargement of the hands and feet is one of the most common signs of the disease.

Development of symptoms in acromegaly is often slow and gradual. It may be so gradual that symptoms go unnoticed for years or even decades.

  • Many people do not notice the changes in their physical appearance. Even a primary care doctor may not recognize gradual acromegalic changes. Often, a family member or friend who sees the person after long intervals of time will point out the changes first.
  • The diagnosis is usually delayed or sometimes missed altogether.
  • The average time from onset of symptoms to diagnosis is 12 years.

Acromegaly is a rare disease.

  • The most common age at diagnosis is 40-45 years, although it can affect any age.
  • The condition affects all ethnic groups and strikes men and women equally.
  • Acromegaly can occur in children. When it does, it is called gigantism (from the word for giant), because abnormal growth of the long bones of the arms and legs makes the child unusually tall.

People with acromegaly have almost twice the chance of dying prematurely as healthy people. Fortunately, treatment is available that can prevent serious complications and premature death. Before the condition can be treated, however, it must be recognized.

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Read What Your Physician is Reading on Medscape

Acromegaly »

Increased and unregulated growth hormone (GH) production, usually caused by a GH-secreting pituitary tumor (somatotroph tumor), characterizes acromegaly.

Read More on Medscape Reference »

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