A doctor draws blood

Acromegaly Diagnosis

Acromegaly is a rare condition that most commonly affects middle-aged adults. A result of an overproduction of growth hormones from the pituitary gland in the brain, this disorder leads to abnormally large extremities and facial features. If left untreated, this condition can also lead to very serious complications.

When to See a Doctor

If you begin to notice any of the common symptoms of acromegaly, make an appointment with your doctor as soon as possible. Usually, the first thing that people with acromegaly will notice is outgrowing items such as rings and shoes. However, you may only be able to tell a noticeable difference in your appearance by comparing old photographs. Often, the physical changes are so gradual that even close family and friends will not pick up on them.

Because of the slow progression of acromegaly, the exact symptoms of this condition can vary and can make diagnosis fairly difficult. However, early detection is very important, because having increased levels of growth hormones in your system over a long period of time can lead to severe complications. Effectively managing your condition with a treatment plan is key to preventing any serious effects from occurring.

Preparing for Your Appointment

If you meet with your family doctor or general practitioner initially, he or she will likely recommend you to an endocrinologist who specializes in hormonal disorders in order to receive a definitive diagnosis. There are a few things you can do to prepare for this type of appointment.

Be sure to write down any and all symptoms that you have been experiencing, even if they seem to be completely unrelated. Additionally, write down as much personal information as possible, including changes in your sex life or menstrual cycle. Make a list of all medications you are taking for your doctor as well.

Taking a family member or friend can be helpful, since they may be able to remember things that you have forgotten. You may also want to bring along old photographs (as far back at ten years) so your doctor can see how much the disorder has progressed by this point. Finally, write down any questions you may have for the doctor so you don’t forget them.

Diagnosing Acromegaly

After getting your medical history and performing a physical exam, your doctor will likely perform some tests to reach a definitive diagnosis. These tests may include:

  • Growth hormone suppression test: This is the only method for definitively diagnosing acromegaly, and it involves testing your blood for growth hormone levels before and after you drink a glucose preparation. Usually after ingesting glucose, your growth hormone levels will be suppressed. However, for someone with acromegaly, your growth hormone levels will likely be unaffected.

  • GH and IGF-I measurement: This test involves fasting overnight and then taking a blood sample to measure the levels of growth hormones in your blood. If you have elevated levels, this means that you may have acromegaly.

  • Imaging tests: A benign (noncancerous) pituitary tumor is the most common cause for acromegaly, so your doctor will likely recommend that you undergo some imaging tests, such as an MRI, to pinpoint the location of the tumor and assess the size. If there is no pituitary tumor present, then the radiologist will need to perform other imaging tests to look for a non-pituitary tumor located somewhere else in your body. 

Last Updated: January 19, 2016