Growth hormone (GH) controls the growth of soft tissue and bone. Elevated GH causes an excess of bone and soft tissue growth. In adults, this can cause a rare disorder called acromegaly. It can cause serious complications and early death if not treated.
In young children, bone growth is still occurring. Excess GH can cause a similar condition called gigantism. Gigantism causes dramatic growth in children.
The pituitary gland is a small gland located at the base of the brain. It produces many hormones, including GH.
In most cases, the elevation of GH is caused by a benign
of this gland. In a small number of cases, cancerous tumors of other organs, such as the pancreas, adrenal, or lung, may be the source of excess GH.
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Acromegaly is more common in people who are 40-45 years of age. Family history of acromegaly may rarely increase your risk of this condition.
Symptoms usually develop slowly over time.
In children, the bones are longer and cause soft tissue swelling. If not treated, children can grow to a height of 7-8 feet.
Symptoms and complications in adults may include:
Abnormally large growth and deformity of the:
Hands—rings no longer fitFeet—need a bigger size shoeFace—bulging of brow and lower jawJaw—teeth do not line up correctly when the mouth is closedLipsTongue
Skin changes, such as:
Thickened, oily, and sometimes darkened skin
acneExcessive sweating and unpleasant body order due to enlargement of the sweat glandsDeepening voice due to enlarged sinuses, vocal cords, and soft tissues of the throatDifficulty sleeping due to a blocked airwaySwelling in the neck Fatigue and weakness in the legs and armsJoint pain, especially in the jaw
Irregular menstrual cyclesAbnormal production of breast milk
In men—inability to get or sustain an erection
You will be asked about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Acromegaly is often not diagnosed until years after it begins.
Your bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with: CT scanMRI scan
The goals of treatment are to: Reduce production of GH to normal levelsStop and reverse the symptoms caused by excess GHCorrect other endocrine abnormalities, such as thyroid, adrenal, and sex organsReduce tumor size
Treatment may include:
The tumor that is believed to be causing acromegaly may be removed. In most cases, this is the preferred treatment. However, drug treatment is increasing in popularity.
In adults, external beams of radiation are used to shrink the tumor. It is most often used when surgery cannot be used or when medications have failed.
Medications may be given to: reduce the level of GH. These include: Reduce the level of GHShrink the tumor before surgery
There are no current guidelines to prevent acromegaly. Early treatment will help to prevent serious complications.
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Last reviewed January 2015 by Kim Carmichael, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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