How to Recognize Acromegaly
Acromegaly—a growth hormone disorder that causes excessive growth—has numerous signs and symptoms. However, they can develop slowly and seem unrelated, making this endocrine disorder hard to diagnose.
Often, the first symptom that patients notice is that their hands and feet are growing. For example, some people notice that their rings don't fit or that they need a larger shoe size.
Other feature-related changes associated with acromegaly include:
- thick lips
- enlarged nose (particularly a wider nose bridge)
- protruding jaw
- protruding brow
- spaced-out teeth: As the jaw grows, gaps may form between the teeth.
Since acromegaly is usually caused by a benign (non-cancerous) tumor on the pituitary gland, there are several symptoms related specifically to the tumor in the brain. Those symptoms include:
- vision changes (if the tumor is pressing on the nerves connected to the eyes)
- nerve paralysis: The tumor can press on a nerve supplying the muscles or sensations in the head. These nerves are called cranial nerves, and if paralysis happens, that's called cranial nerve palsy. For example, acromegaly can affect the nerves that control eye muscles and change how well your eyes move.
There are other signs and symptoms due to the enlargement of different parts of the body, including:
- joint pain: Acromegaly often causes the bones and cartilage to grow too much, making it painful to move.
- deeper voice: The sinuses and vocal cords can become enlarged, which will change the way your voice sounds.
- sleep apnea: The walls of your airways can thicken and cause breathing difficulties associated with sleep apnea.
- hypertension: The heart and vascular system can become enlarged and overworked, leading to high blood pressure.
Other symptoms associated with acromegaly and the excessive release of growth hormone are:
- excessive perspiration
- abnormal menstrual cycles
- lower libido
- erectile dysfunction
- skin tags
- colon polyps
- carpal tunnel syndrome
The symptoms of acromegaly generally develop gradually—so you may not think much of your rings not fitting anymore or how you're having more frequent headaches. It's important to mention to your doctor any changes you notice in your overall health; with acromegaly, early diagnosis and treatment is vital.
- American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists Medical Guidelines for Clinical Practice for the Diagnosis and Treatment of Acromegaly. Endocr Pract. 2004;10(3):213-225.
- Acromegaly page. National Endocrine and Metabolic Disease Information Service Web site. Available at: http://endocrine.niddk.nih.gov/pubs/acro/acro.htm. May 2008. Accessed November 3, 2010.