The Treatment and Symptoms of Acromegaly

31 October, 2020
Somatostatin analogs are the drug therapy of choice when it comes to this disease. Today, we'll take a closer look at the treatment of acromegaly.

Acromegaly is a rare and chronic disease that results from an excessive secretion of growth hormone or GH. The pituitary gland is responsible for secreting this hormone. In approximately 95% of cases, this excess growth hormone has to do with the development of a benign tumor in the secreting gland. Today, we’ll tell you more about the treatment and symptoms of acromegaly.

The term acromegaly is used when the disease begins in adulthood. In cases where the disease appears in childhood, it’s known as gigantism.

Acromegaly is an underdiagnosed disease, with an estimated prevalence of 40 cases/1,000,000 and an incidence of about 4 or 5 cases/1,000 inhabitants per year.

In most cases, specialists diagnose this disease in patients between 40 and 70 years of age. However, it can also appear in adolescents or the elderly. Both sexes can suffer from it, although it’s somewhat more frequent in women than in men.

Which are its causes?

The causes of acromegaly.

Acromegaly develops, as we’ve seen, as the result of an overproduction of growth hormone. In adults, a tumor in the pituitary gland is the most common cause of excess GH. Let’s look at two types:

  • Pituitary tumors: Most cases of acromegaly are the result of a benign, non-cancerous tumor or adenoma of the pituitary gland. These tumors put pressure on nearby tissues as they grow and cause some of the symptoms of acromegaly.
  • Non-Pituitary Tumors: In some people, acromegaly results from benign or cancerous tumors in other parts of the body. For example, in the lungs, pancreas, or adrenal glands.

What are the symptoms of acromegaly?

One of the most common signs of acromegaly is the enlargement of hands and feet. Individuals may also undergo gradual changes in the shape of their face. These include, for example, protrusion of the lower jaw and eyebrows, enlargement of the nose, or thickening of the lips.

Because acromegaly usually progresses gradually, early signs may not be evident until after several years. These people sometimes notice the condition when comparing old photos to current ones.

Read also: Everything You Need to Know about a Lump in the Neck

In addition to these symptoms, patients can suffer:

  • Thickened and oily skin
  • Excessive sweating and body odor
  • Fatigue and muscle weakness
  • Altered vision
  • Intense snoring due to airway obstruction
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Irregularities in the menstrual cycle in women
  • Others

In addition to those mentioned, it’s common to see high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, blood glucose, or diabetes mellitus. Also, cardiac arrhythmias or alterations in the functioning of the heart valves can appear.

Diagnosis

The diagnosis of acromegaly.

It’s common for an acromegaly diagnosis to take place some 10 to 15 years after the onset of symptoms. This is because the symptoms are, as we have seen, slow and progressive.

This delay in diagnosis can cause “serious” complications in patients. In order to reach a diagnosis, an exhaustive clinical history and a physical examination are essential. A consistent analysis is also necessary in order to measure the levels of basal growth hormone, among other parameters.

Once doctors confirm an excess of GH, they must perform an MRI of the hypothalamic-pituitary area in order to confirm the origin of the excess GH.

Is it possible to treat acromegaly?

The most widespread treatment is surgery, which involves the removal of the pituitary gland. The results of this treatment are usually positive.

When the tumor is too large, then complete removal is not possible. As a result, the disease becomes incurable. In view of this situation, professionals can resort to radiation and the administration of drugs.

Somatostatin analogs are the drug therapy of choice–this is the hormone that inhibits the release of GH. Currently, we have drugs with different action mechanisms that, separately or combined, allow for the control of the disease.

You may also be interested in reading: The Relationship between Obesity and the Endocrine Glands

After carrying out the treatment indicated by the doctor, it’s important to make annual revisions to verify that the disease hasn’t reappeared and that the pituitary is under control and produces the hormones normally.