Acromegaly and gigantism are two pituitary gland disorders that are often used interchangeably. However there are significant differences between acromegaly and gigantism.
Defining acromegaly and gigantism
Gigantism results from an excess of growth hormone while the epiphyseal plates of the long bones are open. By the time the epiphyseal plates close around age 18, a person with gigantism has already grown abnormally tall (in many cases, over 7 feet tall.) Despite the excessive height, people with gigantism tend to have proportioned features like hands and feet.
Acromegaly also happens as a result of excessive growth hormone, however the onset occurs during adulthood and affects extremities like the hands and face. In fact the term ‘acromegaly’ literally means ‘enlarged extremities.’
Which is more common, acromegaly or gigantism?
In the United States, gigantism is very rare. As few as 100 cases have ever been reported, the most famous being Robert Wadlow, who grew to the astounding height of 8′ 11″. Acromegaly is far more common with an average of 6 cases for every 100,000 adults. Former President Abraham Lincoln may have suffered from acromegaly.
What are the symptoms of acromegaly and gigantism?
People with gigantism often suffer from delayed puberty, double vision or poor peripheral vision, headaches, weakness, increased sweating, and irregular menses for girls. In acromegaly, headaches, excessive sweating, and weakness can also occur along with hypertension, hoarseness, and joint pain. People with acromegaly can also develop congestive heart failure, glucose intolerance, and diabetes if their condition is left untreated.
How do you treat acromegaly and gigantism?
Because gigantism occurs during childhood, parents should be alert for any signs of abnormal vertical growth. If you suspect your child is abnormally tall for his age, speak to his pediatrician for a proper diagnosis. Most cases of gigantism are caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland making surgery the treatment of choice. If surgery is not an option or fails to solve the problem, medications to reduce the amount of growth hormone can be prescribed.
Much like gigantism, acromegaly is often the result of a tumor on the pituitary gland. So surgery and medication treatments are also considered for people with acromegaly. One medication, Octreotide, has been proven to suppress growth hormones in some patients with acromegaly. However, this drug is expensive and can cause gastrointestinal side effects like gall stones.
MedlinePlus (National Institutes of Health), Acromegaly (2010). Retrieved on November 28, 2010
MedlinePlus (National Institutes of Health), Gigantism (2010). Retrieved on November 28, 2010
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emedicine, Gigantism and Acromegaly (2010). Retrieved on November 28, 2010