A doctor consoles a patient with acromegaly

Acromegaly Causes and Risk Factors

Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that leads to excessive growth in the bones and soft tissues of the body in adults. This condition mostly affects the arms, legs, and face, but it can also cause abnormal growth in other organs, such as the liver, spleen, heart, and kidneys. Because of the potential for serious complications, it is important to be diagnosed with acromegaly as soon as possible.

Acromegaly Causes

The symptoms of acromegaly are caused by the pituitary gland producing too much growth hormone. The pituitary gland is a small gland that is located at the base of the brain that produces many important hormones. Growth hormones (GH) are very important for managing your physical growth, so when there is too much GH in your system, this can lead to serious problems.

When growth hormones are secreted into your bloodstream, your liver automatically begins producing another hormone called insulin-like growth factor-I (IGF-I), which stimulates the growth of the bones and other tissues in your body. Therefore, when your body is producing excessive amounts of GH, the result is also excessive amounts of IGF-I.

The root of this problem is usually a tumor of some kind. Possible tumors include:

  • Pituitary tumors: This is the most common cause for acromegaly are noncancerous tumors attached to the pituitary glands. Tumors located on the pituitary glands may also cause impaired vision and headaches, due to pressure on the surrounding nerves and brain tissues.

  • Non-pituitary tumors: Sometimes, acromegaly may be caused by a tumor that is not located in the pituitary gland. Other possible locations include the lungs, pancreas, or adrenal glands. These tumors may or may not be cancerous. Sometimes, a non-pituitary tumor will produce it’s own growth hormones, but sometimes the tumors will produce a different hormone called growth hormone-releasing hormone (GH-RH). GH-RH stimulates the pituitary gland to produce more GH, leading to the typical symptoms of acromegaly.

Acromegaly Risk Factors

Acromegaly is a condition that only affects adults and can begin at any point after you go through puberty. However, it is most common for acromegaly to occur once you have reached middle age. Other factors, such as sex and race, do not affect the risk or likelihood of developing acromegaly.

Acromegaly Complications

If left untreated, the progression of acromegaly can result in serious health complications. These can include:

  • Hypertension

  • Cardiomyopathy

  • Osteoarthritis

  • Sleep apnea

  • Vision loss

  • Spinal cord compression

  • Hypopituitarism

  • Colon polyps

  • Diabetes mellitus

  • Uterine fibroids

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome

Fortunately, early diagnosis and successful treatment of acromegaly can usually prevent most or all of these complications from occurring. However, if left untreated, this condition can lead to severe complications and even premature death in some cases.

Last Updated: January 19, 2016