What is Gigantism?
Gigantism is an extremely rare condition. It usually occurs during a person’s childhood but can happen during late adolescence when there is extreme muscle, organ, and bone growth. These children will be usually tall. This is a nonspecific term that physicians use in reference to any height that is more than two standard deviations above what the mean. To get this information the physician takes into consideration the person’s age and sex along with the Tanner Stage.
Symptoms of Gigantism
The most common symptom of Gigantism is extreme growth along with being tall for their age. Other symptoms include:
- Hands, tongue, toes, head, and fingers that are enlarged
- Sweat production that is excessive
- Severe headaches
- Having irregular menstrual periods
- The onset of puberty late
- Producing breast milk
- Having a prominent forehead, thick facial features, and an unusually large jaw
- Having problems with their peripheral (side) vision or double vision
- Tingling and weakness in their legs and arms due to nerves being compressed by enlarging tissues.
- Coarse skin
- Unusually deep voice
- Extreme muscle growth
Gigantism may also cause a person to have internal organs such as their kidneys, tongue, brain, and heart being enlarged. Complications such as having sleep apnea, heart failure, diabetes, and high blood pressure may also happen.
This condition is caused by the overproduction of the growth hormone referred to as GH. In the pituitary gland, which is a small pea size gland located at the base of your brain. This overproduction will happen before the bone growth plates in the child’s skull have closed. The thing that causes the overproduction of this hormone is pituitary tumors that are benign or non-cancerous. Approximately one in one thousand people will have a tumor develop on their pituitary gland. These tumors press on their pituitary gland causing GH overproduction.
- In addition it is thought that certain genetic or inherited syndromes can lead to Gigantism. Two of those syndromes include McCune-Albright and multiple endocrine neoplasia.
- It can also be cause by a genetic disorder that causes tumor growth called neurofibromatosis.
- It can also be caused by the Carney complex.
In addition to Gigantism being cause by the overproduction of the growth hormone it can also be cause by a cerebral defect. This type of Gigantism is called Cerebral Gigantism. If this is the cause of Gigantism the infants are big and the child will have growth that is accelerated for the first four to five years of their lives and then slow down so the growth of rate is normal.
Treating Gigantism usually involves a combination of different techniques. These techniques are used to regulate or reduce the release of GH from the pituitary gland. Before your physician designs a treatment plan they will find out the underlying cause of the hormone overproduction and base their treatment on that cause.
The physician may use different medications to help reduce the amount of GH that is being released by the pituitary gland. The medication may also prevent a person from growing in stature and even block the effects of the hormone. Some of the medications that might be used are:
- Cabergoline and dopamine agonists which are used to help reduce the release of GH.
- GH agonists to help block GH effects
- To help inhibit the growth of the long bones sex hormone therapy like testosterone and estrogen might be used.
- Using somatostatin analogs to help reduce the release of GH
They may use radiation on the pituitary glad to help regulate the growth hormone. This is one of the least desirable treatments because the side effects can include learning disabilities, obesity, and emotional impairment. In addition, it can take five to ten years before the full effectiveness of this treatment is felt. Using this form of treatment will usually lead to other pituitary hormone levels decreasing. This treatment is usually only chosen if medication and surgery does not work.
Completely removing the pituitary gland surgically. If the pituitary tumors are well defined, this is the choice treatment and having surgery can cure many cases of Gigantism.
Photo gallery of the medical condition Gigantism…