Acromegaly and Gigantism

Acromegaly and gigantism are caused by an excessive production of growth hormone (GH) by the pituitary gland Pituitary gland The pituitary gland, also known as the hypophysis, is considered the "master endocrine gland" because it releases hormones that regulate the activity of multiple major endocrine organs in the body. The gland sits on the sella turcica, just below the hypothalamus, which is the primary regulator of the pituitary gland. Pituitary Gland. Tall stature is a clinical sign observed in some patients with gigantism. Increased GH and insulin Insulin Insulin is a peptide hormone that is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin plays a role in metabolic functions such as glucose uptake, glycolysis, glycogenesis, lipogenesis, and protein synthesis. Exogenous insulin may be needed for individuals with diabetes mellitus, in whom there is a deficiency in endogenous insulin or increased insulin resistance. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) are responsible for inducing hypersomatotropism. Acromegaly is usually produced by pituitary tumors secreting GH or, less commonly, by extrapituitary disorders. Gigantism typically results in children from excess GH before growth-plate closure; acromegaly typically results from excess GH after growth-plate closure. Diagnosis involves neuroimaging of the pituitary and laboratory tests to evaluate the hypothalamic-pituitary axis. Treatment depends on the operative status of the tumor (if present), or a nonoperative treatment strategy may be utilized.

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Epidemiology and Etiology

Epidemiology

  • The median age of diagnosis is 40 years old with a lag time of 10 years from onset to diagnosis.
  • Life expectancy is shortened by approximately 10 years.
  • Children treated early can have a normal life expectancy.

Etiology

  • Benign pituitary adenoma Pituitary adenoma Pituitary adenomas are tumors that develop within the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Non-functioning or non-secretory adenomas do not secrete hormones but can compress surrounding pituitary tissue, leading to hypopituitarism. Secretory adenomas secrete various hormones depending on the cell type from which they evolved, leading to hyperpituitarism. Pituitary Adenomas in > 95% of cases
  • Growth hormone (GH)- and growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH)-secreting tumors of the pancreas Pancreas The pancreas lies mostly posterior to the stomach and extends across the posterior abdominal wall from the duodenum on the right to the spleen on the left. This organ has both exocrine and endocrine tissue. Pancreas, lungs Lungs Lungs are the main organs of the respiratory system. Lungs are paired viscera located in the thoracic cavity and are composed of spongy tissue. The primary function of the lungs is to oxygenate blood and eliminate CO2. Lungs, and adrenal glands Adrenal Glands The adrenal glands are a pair of retroperitoneal endocrine glands located above the kidneys. The outer parenchyma is called the adrenal cortex and has 3 distinct zones, each with its own secretory products. Beneath the cortex lies the adrenal medulla, which secretes catecholamines involved in the fight-or-flight response. Adrenal Glands (rare)

Pathophysiology

Pathophysiology

  • Acromegaly and gigantism result from excessive GH.
  • GH, also known as somatotropin, is secreted by the anterior pituitary.
  • GH mediates growth and metabolic functions.
  • GH interacts with insulin Insulin Insulin is a peptide hormone that is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin plays a role in metabolic functions such as glucose uptake, glycolysis, glycogenesis, lipogenesis, and protein synthesis. Exogenous insulin may be needed for individuals with diabetes mellitus, in whom there is a deficiency in endogenous insulin or increased insulin resistance. Insulin to control fat, glucose, and protein metabolism during fasting and feeding states.
  • Main effects: 
    • Lipolysis in adipose tissue Adipose tissue Adipose tissue is a specialized type of connective tissue that has both structural and highly complex metabolic functions, including energy storage, glucose homeostasis, and a multitude of endocrine capabilities. There are three types of adipose tissue, white adipose tissue, brown adipose tissue, and beige or "brite" adipose tissue, which is a transitional form. Adipose Tissue 
    • Promotes gluconeogenesis Gluconeogenesis Gluconeogenesis is the process of making glucose from noncarbohydrate precursors. This metabolic pathway is more than just a reversal of glycolysis. Gluconeogenesis provides the body with glucose not obtained from food, such as during a fasting period. The production of glucose is critical for organs and cells that cannot use fat for fuel. Gluconeogenesis (in the liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver) and stimulates insulin Insulin Insulin is a peptide hormone that is produced by the beta cells of the pancreas. Insulin plays a role in metabolic functions such as glucose uptake, glycolysis, glycogenesis, lipogenesis, and protein synthesis. Exogenous insulin may be needed for individuals with diabetes mellitus, in whom there is a deficiency in endogenous insulin or increased insulin resistance. Insulin-like growth factor-1 (IGF-1) secretion, resulting in increased glucose levels
    • Muscle increases amino acid Amino acid Amino acids (AAs) are composed of a central carbon atom attached to a carboxyl group, an amino group, a hydrogen atom, and a side chain (R group). Basics of Amino Acids uptake and protein synthesis.
    • Bones promote linear growth by the proliferation of epiphyseal cartilage Cartilage Cartilage is a type of connective tissue derived from embryonic mesenchyme that is responsible for structural support, resilience, and the smoothness of physical actions. Perichondrium (connective tissue membrane surrounding cartilage) compensates for the absence of vasculature in cartilage by providing nutrition and support. Cartilage in children (gigantism).

Regulation

Regulation is a step-wise process:

  1. The hypothalamus Hypothalamus The hypothalamus is a collection of various nuclei within the diencephalon in the center of the brain. The hypothalamus plays a vital role in endocrine regulation as the primary regulator of the pituitary gland, and it is the major point of integration between the central nervous and endocrine systems. Hypothalamus secretes GHRH and somatostatin (growth hormone-inhibiting hormone).
  2. Adenohypophysis secretes GH.
  3. The liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver produces IGF-1.
  4. Proliferative effects on bone Bone Bone is a compact type of hardened connective tissue composed of bone cells, membranes, an extracellular mineralized matrix, and central bone marrow. The 2 primary types of bone are compact and spongy. Structure of Bones, cartilage Cartilage Cartilage is a type of connective tissue derived from embryonic mesenchyme that is responsible for structural support, resilience, and the smoothness of physical actions. Perichondrium (connective tissue membrane surrounding cartilage) compensates for the absence of vasculature in cartilage by providing nutrition and support. Cartilage, skeletal muscle, skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Structure and Function of the Skin, soft tissue, organs, and glucose tolerance:
    • Stimulation: hypoglycemia Hypoglycemia Hypoglycemia is an emergency condition defined as a serum glucose level ≤ 70 mg/dL (≤ 3.9 mmol/L) in diabetic patients. In nondiabetic patients, there is no specific or defined limit for normal serum glucose levels, and hypoglycemia is defined mainly by its clinical features. Hypoglycemia, stress, physical strain, deep sleep Sleep Sleep is a reversible phase of diminished responsiveness, motor activity, and metabolism. This process is a complex and dynamic phenomenon, occurring in 4-5 cycles a night, and generally divided into non-rapid eye movement (NREM) sleep and REM sleep stages. Physiology of Sleep, puberty Puberty Puberty is a complex series of physical, psychosocial, and cognitive transitions usually experienced by adolescents (11-19 years of age). Puberty is marked by a growth in stature and the development of secondary sexual characteristics, achievement of fertility, and changes in most body systems. Puberty
    • Inhibition: glucose, somatostatin, somatomedin (from the liver Liver The liver is the largest gland in the human body. The liver is found in the superior right quadrant of the abdomen and weighs approximately 1.5 kilograms. Its main functions are detoxification, metabolism, nutrient storage (e.g., iron and vitamins), synthesis of coagulation factors, formation of bile, filtration, and storage of blood. Liver)
Schematic diagram of the direct and indirect effects of the growth hormone

Schematic diagram of the direct and indirect effects of growth hormone (GH)

Image by Lecturio. License: CC BY-NC-SA 4.0

Clinical Presentation

Clinical findings

  • In children, growth plates have not yet fused, leading to gigantism:
    • Characterized by the symmetrical enlargement of body tissues, which leads to an overgrowth of long bones
    • Patients are commonly over 6’6” tall.
  • In adults, growth plates have fused, leading to acromegaly with an overgrowth of characteristic areas:
    • Nose Nose The nose is the human body's primary organ of smell and functions as part of the upper respiratory system. The nose may be best known for inhaling oxygen and exhaling carbon dioxide, but it also contributes to other important functions, such as tasting. The anatomy of the nose can be divided into the external nose and the nasal cavity. Anatomy of the Nose
    • Supraorbital bulges
    • Jaw Jaw The jaw is made up of the mandible, which comprises the lower jaw, and the maxilla, which comprises the upper jaw. The mandible articulates with the temporal bone via the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). The 4 muscles of mastication produce the movements of the TMJ to ensure the efficient chewing of food. Jaw and Temporomandibular Joint
    • Hands
    • Cranium
  • Visceromegaly:
    • Goiter Goiter A goiter is a chronic enlargement of the thyroid gland due to nonneoplastic growth occurring in the setting of hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or euthyroidism. Morphologically, thyroid enlargement can be diffuse (smooth consistency) or nodular (uninodular or multinodular). Goiter
    • Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy refers to a group of myocardial diseases associated with structural changes of the heart muscles (myocardium) and impaired systolic and/or diastolic function in the absence of other heart disorders (coronary artery disease, hypertension, valvular disease, and congenital heart disease). Overview of Cardiomyopathies
    • Colon polyps Colon polyps Colon polyps are growths of mucosal tissue in the colon, the most common site of polyps in the GI tract. Polyps can be classified as neoplastic or nonneoplastic and may be associated with genetic syndromes. Hyperplastic polyps are nonneoplastic and are the most common type overall, whereas adenomas are the most common type of neoplastic polyp and have the potential to progress to cancer. Colon Polyps
  • Deep voice
  • Thickening of the dermis (pachydermia)
  • Hypoesthesia or paresthesia
  • Macroglossia
  • Separation of the teeth Teeth Normally, an adult has 32 teeth: 16 maxillary and 16 mandibular. These teeth are divided into 4 quadrants with 8 teeth each. Each quadrant consists of 2 incisors (dentes incisivi), 1 canine (dens caninus), 2 premolars (dentes premolares), and 3 molars (dentes molares). Teeth are composed of enamel, dentin, and dental cement. Teeth and broadened interdental grooves
  • Prognathism
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Perspiration
  • Bone pain Pain Pain has accompanied humans since they first existed, first lamented as the curse of existence and later understood as an adaptive mechanism that ensures survival. Pain is the most common symptomatic complaint and the main reason why people seek medical care. Physiology of Pain
  • Vision loss

Complications

  • Disturbances in the visual field
  • Cranial nerve palsies
  • Disturbances of the menstrual cycle Menstrual cycle The menstrual cycle is the cyclic pattern of hormonal and tissular activity that prepares a suitable uterine environment for the fertilization and implantation of an ovum. The menstrual cycle involves both an endometrial and ovarian cycle that are dependent on one another for proper functioning. There are 2 phases of the ovarian cycle and 3 phases of the endometrial cycle. Menstrual Cycle
  • Galactorrhea
  • Erectile dysfunction Erectile Dysfunction Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the inability to achieve or maintain a penile erection, resulting in difficulty to perform penetrative sexual intercourse. Local penile factors and systemic diseases, including diabetes, cardiac disease, and neurological disorders, can cause ED. Erectile Dysfunction
  • Decreased libido
  • Osteoarthritis Osteoarthritis Osteoarthritis (OA) is the most common form of arthritis, and is due to cartilage destruction and changes of the subchondral bone. The risk of developing this disorder increases with age, obesity, and repetitive joint use or trauma. Patients develop gradual joint pain, stiffness lasting < 30 minutes, and decreased range of motion. Osteoarthritis 
  • Carpal tunnel syndrome Carpal Tunnel Syndrome Carpal tunnel syndrome (CTS) is a complex of signs and symptoms caused by compression of the median nerve as it crosses the carpal tunnel. Presentation is with pain and paresthesia of the dermatomal target tissues innervated by the median nerve as well as weakness and atrophy of the nerve's myotomal targets. Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
  • Sleep apnea
  • Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus Diabetes mellitus (DM) is a metabolic disease characterized by hyperglycemia and dysfunction of the regulation of glucose metabolism by insulin. Type 1 DM is diagnosed mostly in children and young adults as the result of autoimmune destruction of β cells in the pancreas and the resulting lack of insulin. Type 2 DM has a significant association with obesity and is characterized by insulin resistance. Diabetes Mellitus 
  • Hypertension
  • Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy Cardiomyopathy refers to a group of myocardial diseases associated with structural changes of the heart muscles (myocardium) and impaired systolic and/or diastolic function in the absence of other heart disorders (coronary artery disease, hypertension, valvular disease, and congenital heart disease). Overview of Cardiomyopathies and heart failure
  • Secondary hypogonadism Hypogonadism Hypogonadism is a condition characterized by reduced or no sex hormone production by the testes or ovaries. Hypogonadism can result from primary (hypergonadotropic) or secondary (hypogonadotropic) failure. Symptoms include infertility, increased risk of osteoporosis, erectile dysfunction, decreased libido, and regression (or absence) of secondary sexual characteristics. Hypogonadism
  • Increased incidence of colorectal cancer Colorectal cancer Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the 2nd leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Colorectal cancer is a heterogeneous disease that arises from genetic and epigenetic abnormalities, with influence from environmental factors. Colorectal Cancer

Diagnosis

Clinical presentation is typically the most important aspect of diagnosis.

  • Labs: GH low point greater than 0.4 µg/L or 1 µg/L (depending on GH standards) during the oral glucose tolerance test, and elevated, age-adjusted IGF-1 level
  • Imaging: 
    • MRI: 
      • Can show a pituitary mass
      • If a pituitary adenoma Pituitary adenoma Pituitary adenomas are tumors that develop within the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Non-functioning or non-secretory adenomas do not secrete hormones but can compress surrounding pituitary tissue, leading to hypopituitarism. Secretory adenomas secrete various hormones depending on the cell type from which they evolved, leading to hyperpituitarism. Pituitary Adenomas is absent, search the chest and abdomen for other tumors.
    • CT scan:
      • Abdomen and pelvis Pelvis The pelvis consists of the bony pelvic girdle, the muscular and ligamentous pelvic floor, and the pelvic cavity, which contains viscera, vessels, and multiple nerves and muscles. The pelvic girdle, composed of 2 "hip" bones and the sacrum, is a ring-like bony structure of the axial skeleton that links the vertebral column with the lower extremities. Pelvis: Evaluate for pancreatic, adrenal, and ovarian tumors secreting GH/GHRH.
      • Chest: Evaluate for bronchogenic carcinoma secreting GH/GHRH.

Management

  • Surgical option: transsphenoidal adenomectomy via endonasal access ( pituitary adenomas Pituitary adenomas Pituitary adenomas are tumors that develop within the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Non-functioning or non-secretory adenomas do not secrete hormones but can compress surrounding pituitary tissue, leading to hypopituitarism. Secretory adenomas secrete various hormones depending on the cell type from which they evolved, leading to hyperpituitarism. Pituitary Adenomas)
  • Nonsurgical options:
    • Nonpharmacological:
      • Stereotactic radiosurgery
      • Proton therapy
      • Conventional radiation therapy
    • Pharmacological:
      • Dopamine-D2-agonists (bromocriptine) inhibit GH production by the pituitary adenoma Pituitary adenoma Pituitary adenomas are tumors that develop within the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Non-functioning or non-secretory adenomas do not secrete hormones but can compress surrounding pituitary tissue, leading to hypopituitarism. Secretory adenomas secrete various hormones depending on the cell type from which they evolved, leading to hyperpituitarism. Pituitary Adenomas.
      • GH-receptor-antagonists (pegvisomant) normalize the elevated IGF-1 level.
      • Somatostatin-analogs (octreotide) decrease the size of the adenoma and normalize the GH level.

Differential Diagnosis

  • McCune-Albright syndrome: a rare, hypersecretory syndrome consisting of polyostotic fibrous dysplasia, cutaneous pigmentation, precocious puberty Precocious puberty Precocious puberty (PP) is the appearance of secondary sexual characteristics due to elevated sex hormones before the age of 6-8 in girls and 9 in boys. Excess hormone secretion may occur only at the level of the sex hormone or may involve the whole hypothalamic-pituitary-gonadal axis. Precocious Puberty, hyperthyroidism Hyperthyroidism Thyrotoxicosis refers to the classic physiologic manifestations of excess thyroid hormones and is not synonymous with hyperthyroidism, which is caused by sustained overproduction and release of T3 and/or T4. Graves' disease is the most common cause of primary hyperthyroidism, followed by toxic multinodular goiter and toxic adenoma. Thyrotoxicosis and Hyperthyroidism, hypercortisolism, hyperprolactinemia Hyperprolactinemia Hyperprolactinemia is defined as a condition of elevated levels of prolactin (PRL) hormone in the blood. The PRL hormone is secreted by the anterior pituitary gland and is responsible for breast development and lactation. The most common cause is PRL-secreting pituitary adenomas (prolactinomas). Hyperprolactinemia, and acromegaly due to somatotroph hyperplasia. Patients are differentiated by additional constellations of signs and symptoms.
  • Multiple endocrine neoplasia Multiple endocrine neoplasia Multiple endocrine neoplasia syndromes are autosomal dominant inherited conditions characterized by 2 or more hormone-producing tumors involving the endocrine organs. There are different types of MEN, namely MEN1-4. Multiple Endocrine Neoplasia: GH-cell pituitary adenoma Pituitary adenoma Pituitary adenomas are tumors that develop within the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. Non-functioning or non-secretory adenomas do not secrete hormones but can compress surrounding pituitary tissue, leading to hypopituitarism. Secretory adenomas secrete various hormones depending on the cell type from which they evolved, leading to hyperpituitarism. Pituitary Adenomas is a component of the autosomal-dominant, multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN) type 1 syndrome, which also includes parathyroid and pancreatic tumors. In addition to the finding of excess GH, the patient demonstrates other endocrine anomalies. 
  • Acromegaloidism: soft tissue and skin Skin The skin, also referred to as the integumentary system, is the largest organ of the body. The skin is primarily composed of the epidermis (outer layer) and dermis (deep layer). The epidermis is primarily composed of keratinocytes that undergo rapid turnover, while the dermis contains dense layers of connective tissue. Structure and Function of the Skin changes usually associated with acromegaly, a normal baseline, dynamic GH/IGF-1, and no demonstrable pituitary or extrapituitary tumor. Acromegaloidism is rare.
  • Pachydermoperiostosis: Patients present with enlargement of the fingers and toes, swelling or pain Pain Pain has accompanied humans since they first existed, first lamented as the curse of existence and later understood as an adaptive mechanism that ensures survival. Pain is the most common symptomatic complaint and the main reason why people seek medical care. Physiology of Pain of the large joints, coarsening of facial features, and grooves/depressions in the scalp. Pachydermoperiostosis is caused by mutations in HPGD, which encodes 15-hydroxyprostaglandin dehydrogenase, the key enzyme of prostaglandin degradation. The grooves/depressions of the scalp help to differentiate pachydermoperiostosis from acromegaly. 

References

  1. Melmed, S. (2020). Treatment of acromegaly. In Snyder, P.J. (Ed.), UpToDate. Retrieved June 2, 2021, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/treatment-of-acromegaly
  2. Melmed, S. et al. (2018). Primary Immune Deficiency Diseases. In Jameson J., et al. (Ed.), Harrison’s Principles of Internal Medicine (20th ed. Chapter 373). McGraw-Hill.

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