Symptoms, Causes And Treatments: What Is Acromegaly?

Acromegaly, like gigantism, is the result of an unnatural imbalance of human growth hormone and is usually caused by a benign pituitary tumor. Acromegaly is defined by its late onset.

Acromegaly is a highly uncommon condition that results in the slow, excessive growth of the body's bones, especially those in the head and extremities. It is not immediately dangerous, but can lead to eventual heart problems. More considerably dangerous is its root cause, which is in most cases an adenoma, or benign tumor of the pituitary which results in a constant and excessive release of growth hormones.

By definition, acromegaly is the term designated when the condition begins in adulthood. Childhood cases are called gigantism. The diseases are mostly distinguished by age of onset because the appearance of the individual is different to the onlooker, as is the morphological change undergone by an individual suffering each condition.

By adulthood, the bones of the body are generally unable to grow longer. This is because the "long" bones of the body, such as the bones of the arms and legs, have already become impermeable to the growth hormone. This results in a lateral growth, or thickening of bone tissues, especially in the short bones. The bones that show the greatest impact from the hormonal excess are those of the hands, feet, and face because these are still susceptible to the hormone at adulthood, and because they are also some of the shortest, most intricately connected bones, making them more obviously deformed when they become thick.

The progression of acromegaly is usually very slow, and bone growth is not something usually looked for in routine examinations. As such, diagnosis may be delayed a great many years as the disease makes its course and takes its irreversible toll. Usually, diagnosis does not in fact occur until the mid to late thirties, the point by which it will have had one or two decades' progress given an onset in the late teens or early twenties. The disease is highly uncommon, as well, which does not aid the identification process. As most individuals do not seek medical attention until treatment for a pain or problem is desired, and as education on the condition is limited due to its rarity, diagnosis may be even further delayed.

Symptomatically, the disease is usually identified by an unusual thickening of the jaw, as this is one of the more visually prominent bones that can be affected. The enlargement of the fingers and toes may be expressed to a lesser degree, depending upon individual anatomy, and may not be noticed for some time. Early identification of this disorder is key in preventing damage that is usually irreversible, as while treatment may be performed upon the gland, such as surgery to remove the tumor or gland itself, it is generally impossible to remove the excess tissue that has grown as a result of the hormone imbalance.

Chemotherapy and surgery are the primary methods of treatment, as while the tumor that causes the condition is not always malignant, or inclined to spread, its effect upon the gland is sufficiently dangerous to the health of the patient to warrant removal. Gland removal is usually accompanied by hormone replacement therapy, often in the form of prescription hormone pills.

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