Acromegaly and gigantism
Acromegaly and gigantism
Gigantism and acromegaly are diseases caused by excessive production of growth hormone, which is produced in the pituitary gland, or the hypophysis. As the name itself suggests this hormone is particularly important during childhood and adolescence, when it affects growth. Both of these diseases are relatively rare, unfortunately, if they occur, they are very serious. Manifestations of acromegaly or gigantism are not only change in height and appearance of the patient, but also a significant damage of the function of many internal organs, which in turn leads to health problems and significantly increases the mortality of these people.
Causes of acromegaly and gigantism
The basic difference between acromegaly and gigantism is in the period in which the increased production of growth hormone appears. Acromegaly occurs in adults, at the time when the epiphyses of long bones have closed. Therefore bones no more grow in length, but they enlarge and thicken. In acromegaly most notable is the enlargement of acral parts (hence the name of the disease, acromegaly), that are peripheral parts of the body, including superciliary arches, ears, nose, jaw, arms, legs. The changes usually occur slowly, so they can remain unnoticed for a long time to other people and physicians. On the contrary gigantism is an illness in children and adolescents, where the bone growth in length has not stopped. These individuals grow excessively and can reach very high physical stature. If the overproduction of the growth hormone occurs before the closing of growth plates, and afterwards the term for both of these diseases is adolescent acromegaly. The most common cause of growth hormone overproduction is a pituitary tumor. It is usually a benign tumor, or adenoma, which has overproduced cells that produce the growth hormone. Such cancer cells do not respond to the stimuli from other tissues that would normally limit growth hormone production.
Effect of growth hormone
Receptors that bind growth hormone are found in most organs and tissues of the body, so the excessive amount of growth hormone inappropriately affects organs, and this leads to their damage. Let's name at least a couple of examples for illustration which systems are damaged in acromegaly or gigantism. The heart is affected, causing high blood pressure, arrhythmias, premature atherosclerosis. The digestive system is affected by enlarged liver and spleen, gallstones, and colon cancer. It affects also the skin and the subcutaneous tissue, then there is a thickening of the skin and increased sweating. Furthermore, in acromegaly or gigantism joints are affected by arthritis and pain. In addition to the pro-growth effect the growth hormone also influences the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, water and minerals.
Treatment of acromegaly and gigantism
For the treatment for acromegaly and gigantism there are three different options. They are neurosurgery, radiation therapy, or pharmacological treatment. For each patient is ideal a different method, therefore it is necessary to carefully consider all the pros and cons. All these procedures intend to destroy the pituitary tumor, which is not only dangerous due to the increased formation of hormones, but also by its growth it can interfere with other brain structures. Since the diagnosis of acromegaly or gigantism comes after many years, the body is already severely damaged. It is therefore important to think of the possibility of acromegaly and gigantism in order to start with the appropriate treatment as soon as possible and prevent irreversible changes in the patient's body.