Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that results when the pituitary gland -- the gland responsible for regulating several key hormones -- produces too much growth hormone. The condition is usually caused by a tumor, but because the disease progresses so slowly, it is sometimes misdiagnosed. The most common symptom is the abnormal growth of the hands and feet. Other symptoms include fatigue, impaired vision, and impotence.
What Is Acromegaly?Acromegaly is a hormonal disorder that results when the pituitary gland produces excess growth hormone (GH). It most commonly affects middle-aged adults, and can result in serious illness and premature death. Once recognized, acromegaly is treatable in most patients, but because of its slow and often insidious onset, it frequently is not diagnosed correctly.
Scientists estimate that about 3 out of every 1 million people develop acromegaly each year, and that 40 to 60 out of every 1 million people suffer from acromegaly at any given time.
Understanding the Pituitary GlandThe pituitary gland, sometimes called the master gland, plays a critical role in regulating growth and development, metabolism, and reproduction. The pituitary gland produces a number of key hormones, including:
- Prolactin, which stimulates the breast to produce milk during pregnancy. After delivery of the baby, a mother's prolactin levels fall unless she breast-feeds her infant. Each time the baby nurses, prolactin levels rise to maintain milk production.
- Growth hormone, which regulates growth.
- ACTH (corticotropin), which stimulates the adrenal glands to produce cortisol.
- Thyrotropin, which signals the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone.
- Luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), which regulate ovulation, estrogen, and progesterone production in women, and sperm formation and testosterone production in men.
The pituitary gland sits in the middle of the head in a bony box called the sella turcica. The eye nerves sit directly above the pituitary gland.