The Guinness Book of World Records has many different types of awards. They give awards for the largest sandwich, fastest skier, longest fingernails and the tallest people. Many of the people who have been highlighted in the Guinness book through the years with the prestigious honor of being the tallest people in the world suffer from a disorder commonly referred to as gigantism. Gigantism is known in the medical field as a disorder of the pituitary gland called acromegaly.
What is acromegaly?
In your brain there is a gland that secretes a hormone that sends messages around to your muscles, bones and organs to grow. This gland is called the pituitary gland and it generally does its job well. You reach a similar height as your parents and grandparents were, you stop growing by around 19 or 20 years old and you suffer no excessive growth spurts that render you disabled. When a person has acromegaly, their pituitary gland sends out too much of the growth hormone and the acromegaly sufferer becomes excessively tall.
Acromegaly occurs in both men and women and most often happens when you are in adulthood—and most often to middle aged people, although, a tumor or other disorder can cause acromegaly in children. Patients with acromegaly also have very large hands, faces and feet. The growth spurt, while excessive and leading to heights that easily exceed 7 feet, happens gradually so it does take some time for patients with acromegaly to discover that this is what is happening to them.
What are the symptoms of acromegaly?
Obviously, one of the symptoms of acromegaly is excessive height. But there are some other symptoms that may be recognizable before the patient begins growing excessively may help get the condition recognized and treated before too much growth has occurred. These symptoms include:
It is important to see a doctor if you notice any of the above symptoms because these may actually be much more noticeable than the actual growth spurt. Once you have grown there is no way to treat the symptoms of acromegaly so getting treatment early is vital. Your doctor will test for acromegaly by measuring the level of growth hormone present in your blood. Since sugar reduces the amount of growth hormone levels, he or she may have you drink a special sugar solution to see if your growth hormone levels remain high or fall as they should.
What are the treatment options for acromegaly?
Since acromegaly is often caused by a tumor that interferes with the conduct of the pituitary gland, a popular treatment option is surgery. During surgery the tumor can be removed and the tissues around the pituitary gland can be relived of pressure. This will allow the pituitary gland to resume normal productions—although it doesn’t guarantee that. In some cases, medication is needed to balance the amount of growth hormone produced and secreted by the pituitary gland. In some cases, surgery is not preformed at all and drugs inhibiting production of growth hormone are the only treatment given.
After surgery, you may still have some tumor cells present. In order to avoid the proliferation of these cells and growth of another tumor, your doctor might suggest radiation therapy. Radiation will not only kill the tumor cells but can also reduce the levels of growth hormone present which will slow down or stop the progression of the acromegaly.