A doctor discusses acromegaly

Acromegaly: 10 Terms to Know

Acromegaly is a rare hormonal disorder that affects mostly middle-aged adults. If you or someone you know is affected by acromegaly, being as informed as possible is extremely vital. Here is a look at some of the most important terms associated with this disorder. 

  1. Pituitary gland: Your pituitary gland is located at the base of your brain behind the bridge of your nose, and it is responsible for producing many different hormones, including growth hormones. When someone has acromegaly, this means that their pituitary gland is overproducing growth hormones, which is what causes their symptoms.

  2. Growth hormone (GH): Growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland and are responsible for managing your physical growth. When there is too much GH in your body, it leads to the symptoms of acromegaly, such as abnormally large hands, feet, and facial features. Over long periods of time, excessive amounts of GH can also lead to other serious complications if you are not diagnosed and treated.

  3. Insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I): When GH is secreted into your bloodstream, your liver is triggered to produce another hormone that is called IGF-I. This hormone is responsible for stimulating the growth of your bones and other tissues in your body. Therefore, when there is an overproduction of GH, there is also an overproduction of IGF-I, which can lead to some of the other symptoms of acromegaly, such as enlarged organs including the heart, liver, spleen, and kidneys.

  4. Pituitary tumor: Most cases of acromegaly are caused by benign (noncancerous) tumors on the pituitary gland. The tumor causes the pituitary gland to produce too much GH, which leads to most of the signs and symptoms of acromegaly. If the mass of the tumor is pressing on other nearby brain nerves and tissues as well, this could also lead to some of the other symptoms of the condition, such as headaches and impaired vision.

  5. Non-pituitary tumor: Sometimes, the symptoms of acromegaly are caused by a tumor that is not located in the pituitary gland. Instead, the tumor is located somewhere else in the body, such as the lungs, pancreas, or adrenal glands. The tumor may generate its own production of GH, or it may secrete a hormone called growth hormone-releasing hormone (GH-RH), which in stimulates the pituitary gland to produce more GH.

  6. Growth hormone suppression test: This is the most definitive test for diagnosing acromegaly. It involves measuring the levels of GH in your bloodstream both before and after you drink a glucose preparation. This works because glucose will normally suppress the levels of GH in your system, but for someone with acromegaly, the GH levels will not be affected.

  7. Transsphenoidal surgery: If a pituitary tumor is causing the symptoms of acromegaly, you will need to have surgery to remove the tumor as soon as possible. This is usually done with a procedure called transsphenoidal surgery, which involves extracting the tumor through your nose. In some cases, the entire tumor will not be completely removed, which means you may also need other avenues of treatment, such as medications or radiation therapy.

  8. Somatostatin analogues: This is one of type of medication that can be used to lower the production of growth hormones in your body. It works by being injected into the gluteal muscles by a healthcare professional once per month.

  9. Dopamine agonists: This is another type of medication that can be used to lower the levels of both types of growth hormones. It may even decrease the size of the tumor in some cases. Dopamine agonists can be taken orally in pill form.

  10. Growth hormone agonists: This is another type of medication that works to block the effect of growth hormones on your body. It is given by daily subcutaneous injection.

Last Updated: January 19, 2016