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What is Gigantism?

Gigantism is a condition that results when a growth hormone secreting pituitary adenoma is present prior to the fusion of the bone growth plates. Gigantism is similar to a condition called acromegaly. However, gigantism occurs during childhood, whereas acromegaly is typically seen in middle-aged adults. Untreated, gigantism typically results in a person being far taller than the average for gender, age, or ethnicity, as well as a variety of other anomalies. Gigantism has been linked to symptom-producing pituitary tumors, and in some rare cases (approximately five percent) tumors combined with an inherited mutated gene. This AIP mutation was first discovered in 2006, led by Dr. Marta Korbontis, professor of endocrinology and metabolism at Barts and the London School of Medicine and Dentistry.

Causes and Diagnosis

Tumors on the pituitary gland are frequently the reason for gigantism developing; however, the condition can also be brought about by McCune-Albright syndrome, neurofibromatosis, Carney complex, and multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1.

A diagnosis of gigantism involves a complete physical exam and thorough medical history of the patient. If the doctor thinks the condition may be present, an MRI or cat scan of the pituitary gland will be ordered.

Gigantism Symptoms

Gigantism has many symptoms beyond the extensive overgrowth of muscles, bones and organs.
Other signs of the condition can include:

  • Headaches
  • Weakness
  • Excessive sweating
  • Double vision
  • Late puberty
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Production of breast milk
  • Oversized feet and hands accompanied by thick digits
  • Thick features of the face including a prominent jaw and brossing of the forehead

Treatment

Treatment options for this condition aim to reduce growth hormone (GH) production to normal levels and can be achieved through surgical means, drug therapy, or radiation therapy of the pituitary. Drug therapy consists of medications that reduce the level of growth hormone are used. Somatostatin analogs are the most effective therapy. Dopamine agonists are also used but do not work as well.

Risks Involved

There are a variety of health risks associated with gigantism including diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and a damaged thyroid gland. Thyroid problems can lead to lowered hormone levels for both sexes, which can bring on even more complications.

Gigantism can be misdiagnosed, as its symptoms mimic those of other illnesses, such as myexoedema and aromatase deficiency. It is vital for gigantism to be diagnosed properly, as untreated it can quickly lead to diabetes and other more serious complications.

 

Sources:

Kolata, Gina. (January 5, 2011). “In a Giant’s Story, a New Chapter Writ by His DNA.” Retrieved on May 21, 2012, from The New York Times.