The pituitary produces growth hormone (GH) when stimulated by the hypothalamus. GH causes the liver to produce insulin-like growth factor 1 (IGF-1), which makes bones and tissues grow. The system is usually kept in balance by a hormone feedback loop, ensuring normal, controlled growth. In rare cases, a benign tumor on the front of the pituitary triggers overproduction of GH. In childhood, this can cause gigantism (excessive growth, especially height) and in adulthood, acromegaly.
Coarsened and enlarged facial features and enlarged hands and feet form the primary signs of acromegaly. Other symptoms include headaches, oily skin, vision disturbances, osteoarthritis, sweating, carpal tunnel syndrome, emotional disorders, sleep disturbance and reproductive and sexual dysfunction.
Blood tests to measure hormone levels are used to diagnose acromegaly, and CT or MRI scanning can confirm it. Treatment may involve drugs or radiation therapy to reduce the tumor, but surgical removal of the pituitary tumor has been the preferred treatment. Postsurgical drug therapy to control hormone levels is often necessary.
Normal (age 16)
Mild (age 33)
Advanced (age 52)
Text and illustrations by Kevin T. Boyd