Acromegaly is caused by the uncontrolled secretion of growth hormone (GH) by the pituitary gland, located just below your brain, behind your eyes. While pea-sized, it controls normal growth, metabolism, and reproductive activity. In most cases, the cause of this excessive production of GH is a noncancerous tumor on the pituitary, causing the enlargement of body parts such as the jaw, hands and feet. Because of where it is located, this tumor can also cause headaches and pressure behind the eyes.
The symptoms of acromegaly can affect both physical appearance and general health. Changes that affect outward appearance can be subtle and happen over years. The most common symptoms are a gradual enlargement of the hands, feet, or facial features that occurs over several years. You may notice that a ring no longer fits your finger, or that you need a larger shoe size. There are also internal changes that can affect general health and well-being.
Acromegaly is also associated with a greater possibility of complications such as hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, dleep apnea, colon polyps, and colon cancer.
Acromegaly is rare — in most cases, it is not diagnosed until the symptoms are relatively advanced. Because it develops so gradually, the early signs and symptoms of acromegaly can easily be mistaken for aging or symptoms of other diseases. Worldwide, it’s believed that 60 out of every million people are affected by acromegaly, yet recent studies suggest the numbers might be as high five times that many.
Patients with acromegaly should be monitored on a regular basis for years after surgery to detect if the disease returns. Even after a successful pituitary surgery, there is still up to a 45% chance of the tumor returning. GH and IGF-1 levels that were initially controlled after surgery could begin to elevate again.