Some adults find that they continue to grow long after they should have stopped. When this happens, it’s possible that the body, and specifically the pituitary gland is over producing hormones. This rare condition is known as acromegaly.
Acromegaly specifically begins in adulthood. If this condition begins in childhood, it’s known as gigantism. Acromegaly doesn’t cause everything to grow, but instead sees the bones in the hands, feet and head continue their growth. Since this growth takes time, many people don’t even recognize that it’s occurring. For many people, the first time they really recognize what’s happening is when they look at an old picture of themselves. There are serious complications that can occur because of acromegaly. Recognizing the potential symptoms can make a big difference in timely diagnosis.
The hormonal balance in the body's delicate. Glands secrete hormones to regulate the functions of the body. The pituitary is responsible for the growth of the body. While this usually stops being a major function as a person reaches adulthood, the pituitary gland can be forced to create more hormones.
Typically there is one main reason for the pituitary gland to start secreting excess hormones once again. That reason is a tumor. Specifically, it’s not a cancerous tumor, but instead a benign tumor of irregular cell growth. In addition to stimulating hormone production, the tumor can exert pressure on the tissues in the area. This can lead to other symptoms in the body.
The enlargement of hands, feet and facial bones is the most obvious and distinctive symptom of acromegaly. However, the pressure a tumor exerts on the areas around it near the brain can cause other symptoms. Some of those include:
Symptoms can come on gradually. This list is rather large and can be overlapping with other conditions. Consult a doctor when exhibiting any of the symptoms.
The goal of treating acromegaly has to be to get hormone production levels back to a normal level. Restoring this balance will end the continued and unnecessary growth the body is undergoing.
Unlike many other conditions, step 1 to treatment is usually surgical. The tumor on the pituitary gland needs to be removed through transsphenoidal surgery. The doctor will go in through the nose and then take off the tumor. In turn, this will produce less stress on the surrounding tissue and can remove many of the signs and symptoms that accompany acromegaly. If the entire tumor can’t be removed, then other treatments will be needed in addition.
Radiation therapy can work to eliminate excess tumor cells remaining after surgery. Conventional radiation therapies take several weeks and require treatment every day. Many times, results aren’t seen for a decade! Proton beam therapy has a high dose of radiation shot through a proton beam. Stereotactic radiosurgery uses a large dose of radiation in one treatment. The goal for this radiation treatment is to minimize damage to any tissue surrounding the remaining cells.
Medications can also be used. There are three types. Each work to bring hormone levels back in line for appropriate growth. The first type of drugs will simply lower overall hormone loves. The second type work to keep the pituitary gland from secreting more than the normal levels of hormones. Finally, the third type of medication accepts that there are elevated levels of hormones, but blocks their ability to perform their function and promote growth.
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