The medical condition known as acromegaly is one that does not occur regularly. But when it does, it can pose very serious challenges to the sufferer. What are the causes of this disorder? And how can it be treated?
Acromegaly is a growth disorder that results from excessively high levels of human growth hormone (HGH) in the body. It results from overproduction of the hormone by the pituitary gland and, possibly, from HGH therapy. The disorder leads to excess growth of the body's soft tissues and bones. The abnormal growth resulting from this rarely-occurring condition affects the face, arms and legs mostly. Children suffering from acromegaly tend to be abnormally tall (gigantism). Middle-aged individuals are more likely to have this problem, which often develops gradually over many years.
Since acromegaly develops slowly, it is possible that it may not be
detected on time. Common symptoms that have been associated with the
There are several other symptoms that may also be present. It is advised to see a doctor if you notice one or more of the symptoms.
The principal cause of acromegaly is the overproduction of growth hormone by the anterior pituitary gland. This substance is needed for proper physical growth and development. It helps with muscle strength, bone health, energy levels, and overall wellbeing. The hormone is mostly able to achieve these through the stimulatory effect it has on the production of insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) in the liver. IGF-1 promotes the growth of bones and other body tissues. This means excess HGH production may result in abnormal growth. Overproduction of growth hormone has been attributed to the presence of tumors, which may be pituitary or non-pituitary.
Pituitary tumors – Majority of acromegaly cases are said to be caused by a non-cancerous (benign) tumor known as adenoma. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) says more than 95 percent of cases have this has the cause. The tumor increases the secretion of growth hormone in the body leading to Acromegaly. It is pertinent to state that adenomas do not always lead to excess GH.
Non-pituitary tumors – Acromegaly may also be the result of tumors in other parts of the body. The lung, pancreas and adrenal glands are some of the organs that may be affected. These tumors affect HGH levels in different ways. They are said to be capable of producing growth hormone. Alternatively, the tumors may produce growth hormone-releasing hormone (GH-RH) which, in turn, stimulates increased HGH production by the pituitary gland.
It is advised for a person to see a doctor for evaluation when they suspect a possible case of acromegaly. Early diagnosis will ensure prompt attention and guard against unpleasant complications. Your doctor may suggest blood tests to ascertain if growth hormone production in your body is normal. You could be asked to take a glucose tolerance test – normally, HGH and body glucose levels are expected to go in opposite directions. IGF-1 and imaging tests may also be ordered.
The choice of treatment for an acromegaly sufferer will depend on different factors, including age and overall health. The main focus of such is usually to lower growth hormone production as well as reduce harmful effects of tumors and maintain optimal pituitary function. Different treatments may be required, including:
Medications – Certain drugs can be used to reduce the level of GH in the body. Synthetic versions of the naturally-occurring hormone somatostatin which are known as somatostatin analogs are useful for disrupting GH overproduction by the pituitary gland. Growth hormone antagonists such as pegvisomant (Somavert) may be employed to counteract the growth-inducing effect of GH on tissues as well. Dopamine agonists, such as bromocriptine (Parlodel), have also been found useful in lowering both HGH and IGF-1 levels and, possibly, reducing tumor size.
Surgery – This is probably the most effective treatment for acromegaly and likely the first option your doctor may suggest. Transsphenoidal surgery involves the extraction of a problematic pituitary tumor via your nose. The removal is expected to promote normalization of growth hormone levels. It should be noted, though, that this can come with serious complications, including pituitary damage and cerebrospinal fluid leaks.
Radiation – Doctors may also recommend the use of radiation for elimination of acromegaly-causing tumors. This can assist in slowly lowering HGH levels when employed together with medications. This treatment may be provided through traditional radiation therapy, stereotactic (Gamma Knife) radiosurgery or proton beam therapy. Please note that radiation may affect fertility.
HGH Injections – Abusing HGH injections such as Norditropin, Serostim, Norditropin, Tev-Tropin or Omnitrope could lead also to acromegaly. Generally the growth caused by the excess of injected Somatropin can be stopped by no longer taking pharmaceutical HGH injections or at least lowering the dosage to where it needs to be. Keep in mind though that some of the growth that already occurred may not be reversed.
Severe complications could occur when acromegaly is left untreated for long. These include spinal cord compression, vision loss, goiter, osteoarthritis, hypertension and diabetes. Early treatment is, therefore, advised.
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