Acromegaly is a rare and serious chronic disorder typically caused by a noncancerous tumor on the pituitary gland—which is located just below the brain. The pituitary gland controls many body functions, including growth, metabolism and reproductive function.

In acromegaly, a tumor that grows on the pituitary gland produces too much growth hormone (GH), which can prompt the liver to overproduce a hormone called IGF-1. Too much GH or IGF-1 in the bloodstream signals the body to grow and can result in a wide range of symptoms.

Prevalence

There are an estimated 69,000 individuals with acromegaly worldwide and roughly 24,000 in the United States1—of which an estimated 8,000 are treated chronically with somatostatin analog injections. National Institutes of Health (NIH) cites an annual incidence of three to four new cases per million each year.

Because symptoms often develop slowly, diagnosis may be delayed by years or decades, making it difficult to determine the total number of people with the disease. While acromegaly is most often diagnosed in middle age, it does not appear to be gender-specific, as it affects men and women equally.

Signs & Symptoms

People living with acromegaly can experience the following signs and symptoms:

  • Enlargement of the hands, feet, tongue and internal organs
  • Increased sweating
  • Thickening of the facial features, especially the nose
  • More prominent jaw and forehead
  • Spreading out of the teeth
  • Joint pain
  • Sleep apnea
  • Fatigue
  • Pain and tingling in the hands and wrists
  • Large numbers of skin tags
  • Increased incidence of colon polyps

Other serious health conditions associated with the progression of acromegaly include type 2 diabetes, hypertension, respiratory disorders, and cardiac and cerebrovascular disease.

Treatment

Although there is no known way to prevent acromegaly, early detection and treatment may help prevent disease complications from worsening. Treatment options include surgery, medication and radiation, or a combination of these. The decision on which option to start with is usually based on age, the size and location of the tumor, and other existing medical conditions.

Footnote

1 Acromegaly Epidemiology abstracts and publications 1980-2016​