What Is Acromegaly?
When you have acromegaly, your body makes too much growth hormone. This makes parts of your body -- like your hands, feet, and face -- grow too much. It also affects your heart and bones.
There are treatments for acromegaly, and every case is different. In most cases, it might be years before you notice symptoms.
Most people who get acromegaly are middle-aged. Children can have problems with too much growth hormone, but that's a different condition called gigantism.
The most common cause is a benign tumor in your pituitary gland, which is located under your brain. This tumor is not cancer. Because of the tumor, your body makes too much growth hormone.
Once in a while, tumors in the pancreas, liver, or parts of the brain can cause high levels of growth hormone. That leads to higher levels of another hormone, called insulin-like growth hormone, which causes the symptoms you see.
First, your hands and feet usually start to swell. You might notice a change in your ring or shoe size, especially your shoe width.
The features in your face -- your lips, nose, and tongue -- often change, becoming larger, swollen, and broader. Your teeth may begin to space out. Your brow and lower may jaw start to jut out from your face.
Other symptoms may include:
- Achy joints, possibly leading to arthritis
- Stiff, rough body hair
- Hoarser, deeper voice
- Pinched nerve problems
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Thickening skin with skin tags
- Sweating a lot with oily skin
- Snoring and sleep apnea, a breathing problem that happens during sleep
- Weakness and being tired
- Tingling or pain in fingers (carpal tunnel syndrome)
- Vision problems
- Lower sex drive
- Changes in menstrual cycle and breast discharge in women
- Erectile dysfunction in men
You can sometimes have problems such as type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, a higher chance of heart disease, and an enlarged heart.
Getting a Diagnosis
The sooner your acromegaly is diagnosed, the better. When you go to see your doctor, he'll ask you questions like these:
- Why did you come to see me today?
- What changes have you noticed?
- When did you first notice the problem?
- How are you feeling?
To tell for sure if you have acromegaly, your doctor will do blood tests to see if your growth hormone levels are high.
Your growth hormone levels can change from minute to minute or day to day. So you'll probably get several blood tests.
Your doctor will do other tests, such as X-rays, MRIs, and CT scans, to learn more about the size of the tumor and where it is, or to check on how it has affected your body.
Questions for Your Doctor
When you find out you have acromegaly, you've probably got a lot of questions. You may want to start by asking your doctor:
- What is acromegaly?
- What is causing my acromegaly?
- What treatment do you recommend?
- How will treatment change my symptoms?
- What will success look like?
- What are the side effects?
- How many other people with acromegaly have you treated?
- Am I likely to get this again?