OHSU

Acromegaly

About 10 percent of pituitary adenomas (non-cancerous tumors) make too much growth hormone (GH). In adults, who have stopped growing, this causes a disease called acromegaly. This disease can also be caused by tumors of the pancreas, lungs or adrenal glands.

Symptoms of acromegaly caused by pituitary adenoma

Acromegaly can take several decades to develop because pituitary adenomas that make too much GH usually grow slowly. Symptoms include: 

  • Hands and feet getting larger
  • Jaw and forehead getting larger

Acromegaly can also cause:  

  • Arthritic (painful, swollen) joints and back pain
  • Thickened skin and skin tags
  • Oily skin, sweating more than usual
  • Deep and "throaty" voice

If you have acromegaly, you might develop another medical condition, such as:  

  • Carpal tunnel syndrome
  • High blood pressure and vascular disease
  • Heart disease
  • Diabetes

Some people with acromegaly notice their ring size or shoe size getting larger over 15 or 20 years. Changes can happen so slowly that doctors often don't diagnose acromegaly until it has been present for a long time. Pituitary adenomas that cause acromegaly are often diagnosed when they cause headaches or vision problems.  

Diagnosing Acromegaly

You might not know you have acromegaly for many years because it develops so slowly. To diagnose acromegaly, you might have:

  • Blood test
  • Glucose tolerance test (blood sugar test)
  • MR imaging or CT scan
  • Other tests

The Goal of Acromegaly Treatment

Your doctor will work with you to determine how well your treatment works and whether you need more treatment. Your doctor and healthcare team want to: Protect your vision and pituitary gland from being damaged by the tumor

  • Bring your hormone levels back to normal
  • Treat any conditions caused by the pituitary tumor or acromegaly

Treatment for Acromegaly

Acromegaly is usually treated by removing the pituitary adenoma (non-cancerous tumor) that is making too much growth hormone (GH). These tumors are usually larger than 1 cm (about the size of a pea) by the time the doctor diagnoses them. A tumor this size can affect your vision and other functions if it presses on the optic nerve (nerve connecting the eye to the brain) or pituitary gland. Also, removing the tumor can stop the acromegaly and sometimes reverse it.

If your doctor cannot remove the entire tumor, you may take medication to balance your hormones. You might also have radiation therapy. Your doctor will talk with you about the best treatment option for you.

After Acromegaly Treatment

Having your hormones out of balance can cause serious medical conditions. Your risk of certain conditions may be higher than normal even after treatment. Your doctor may examine and test you for:

  • Heart problems (heart attack, stroke and other problems)
  • Colon polyps
  • Sleep apnea (stopping breathing during sleep)
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome (wrist pain, numb fingers)  

Your doctor will talk with you about the best treatment options.