As I was watching TV one evening, a show came on about abnormally tall people. They suffered from a rare medical condition. Albeit, just because you’re tall doesn’t mean you have some medical condition, but when children suffer gigantism (were children have exaggerated bone growth and an abnormal increase in height) and other disturbing symptoms, there is a cause for concern. Some of the people on the TV program were affected by a condition known as acromegaly.
The Hormone Foundation defines acromegaly as a rare but serious condition caused by too much growth hormone (GH) in the blood. Under normal conditions, GH stimulates growth and development (in children) and affects energy, muscles, bones and a sense of well-being (in adults). However, in acromegaly, children suffer what is commonly known as gigantism, as define earlier. When occurring in adults (middle-aged men/women) or children, symptoms can include the following:
Numbness or burning of the hands or feet
Carpal tunnel syndrome
High blood sugar
Heart failure or enlarged heart
High blood pressure
Lower sexual desire
How is acromegaly diagnosed? Once a physician suspects this condition, she will do a blood test to check IGF-1 levels (insulin-like growth factor -1). Or she may do an oral glucose tolerance test. In this test, the patient will drink what’s basically know as sugar water, then GH levels will be measured afterwards.
Now, let’s talk about how this condition is treated. The main goal is to lower GH and IGF-1 levels. Treatment will depend on what’s causing the condition to begin with. According to the Hormone Foundation, options range from surgery, pituitary irradiation (radiation therapy on the pituitary gland), medication or a combination of the aforementioned options. For instance, if the pituitary gland has a tumor that is the root problem, surgery for removal is the answer. What if your GH levels don’t come back down to normal after surgery or you cannot have this surgery at all due to other medical complications? Well, irradiation may be the answer.