What is acromegaly?
Acromegaly is caused by a benign (non-cancerous) tumour of the pituitary gland called an adenoma which causes the pituitary to produce too much Growth Hormone (GH). This stimulates the pituitary gland to produce GH. Secretion of GH by the pituitary into the bloodstream stimulates the liver to produce another hormone called Insulin-like Growth Factor 1 (IGF-1). IGF-1 causes tissue growth in the body.
The name acromegaly comes from the Greek words for “extremities” (acro) and “great” (megaly).
Growth hormone has effects on many different parts of the body; in adults it is important to maintain normal energy levels and to keep body tissues, such as muscle and bone, healthy. In children it is essential to reach normal growth.
Acromegaly is a rare condition with only around 4 -6 new cases per million of the population being diagnosed each year. The diagnosis is often delayed as the symptoms develop gradually over time, and anyone with the condition may not notice the changes. People may have had acromegaly for several years before the condition is recognised.
Acromegaly usually develops in adults between the ages of 30 and 50, but symptoms can appear at any age.
If acromegaly develops before you have stopped growing (which usually occurs between the ages of 15 to 17) it can cause gigantism, where people are very tall, because GH promotes growth of legs and arms. As the growth of bones stops after puberty, excessive GH in adults won’t result in increased height, but may cause other symptoms.