Acromegaly is a rare, serious chronic disorder typically caused by a noncancerous tumor on the pituitary gland, which is located just below the brain. The pituitary gland controls many body functions, including growth, metabolism and reproductive function.
In acromegaly, a tumor that grows on the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone (GH), which can prompt the liver to overproduce IGF-1. Too much GH or IGF-1 in the bloodstream signals the body to grow, and can result in a wide range of signs and symptoms.
There are an estimated 69,000 individuals with acromegaly worldwide. In 13 studies of acromegaly prevalence since 1980, an average of approximately 75 cases per million was determined, suggesting roughly 24,000 individuals with acromegaly in the United States, of which an estimated 8,000 are treated chronically with somatostatin analog injections. However, previous data suggest that pituitary tumors may be more prevalent than previously thought, and that the global prevalence of acromegaly may be higher, between 85 and 118 cases per million people. National Institutes of Health (NIH) also cites annual incidence of three to four new cases per million each year. Because symptoms often develop slowly, diagnosis may be delayed by years or decades, making it difficult to determine the total number of people with the disease. While the disorder is most often diagnosed in middle age, acromegaly does not appear to be gender-specific, as it affects men and women equally.
People living with acromegaly can experience the following signs and symptoms:
- Enlargement of the hands, feet, tongue and internal organs
- Increased sweating
- Thickening of the facial features, especially the nose
- More prominent jaw and forehead
- Spreading out of the teeth
- Joint pain
- Sleep apnea
- Pain and tingling in the hands and wrists
- Large numbers of skin tags
- Increased incidence of colon polyps
Other serious health conditions associated with the progression of acromegaly include type 2 diabetes, hypertension, respiratory disorders and cardiac and cerebrovascular disease.
The tumor on the pituitary gland can also cause symptoms unrelated to GH or IGF-1. The tumor sometimes grows large enough to impair the pituitary gland or push against nearby nerves and blood vessels in the brain. Symptoms caused by the tumor itself include:
- Partial loss of vision in one or both eyes
- Low sex drive
- Changes in the menstrual cycle for women
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