Gigantism is also called excess production of growth hormone, overproduction of growth hormone and pituitary giant. This is a childhood condition that causes a child to grow taller and sometimes fatter than a child his or her age should be. Gigantism usually is accompanied by other health problems and predisposes a child to health problems throughout life such as thyroid cancer.
Gigantism is most often caused by a tumor in the pituitary gland, the gland responsible for making human growth hormone. Other causes include tumors growing on the brain or spine and various genetic diseases like Carney complex and McCune-Albright syndrome.
The child may grow so large so suddenly that the child may wind up being taller than its parents. The inner organs also grow abnormally large which puts a big strain on those organs.
Other common symptoms include gaps in the teeth, starting puberty at an older age than normal, constant headaches, arthritis, extremely large hands that feel soft, finger and toes grow wide apart, under-bite from a prominent jaw, carpel tunnel syndrome, sweating more than usual, oily skin, Type 2 diabetes, visual problems, hypothyroidism, growth of other tumors in the pituitary gland, high blood pressure and irregular menstrual cycles in girls. Patients may have other symptoms than the ones listed here.
In most cases of gigantism, the disease is caused by an overabundance of a growth hormone release, usually the result of a benign tumor located in the pituitary gland, also known as adenoma. However, there are other possible causes of the condition – for the most part, they are causes related to genetics. Gigantism itself, though, is not usually caused by genetics.
Gigantism may be caused by by Carney complex, a hereditary disease which affects the pigmentation of an individual’s skin, and can create external benign tumors. McCune-Albright syndrome is yet another possible medical condition behind gigantism. It is a disease which alters skin pigmentation and can affect one’s bones.
Multiple endocrine neoplasia type 1 (MEN-1) may also lead to gigantism. It involves overactive endocrine glands that eventually cause tumors to form. Neurofibromatosis is a disease which can cause tumors to form various places, including on nerve endings. It is yet another disease which can cause gigantism.
Tackling gigantism is similar to tackling cancer in that both surgery and medications are used. Surgeries to remove the tumors that cause gigantism are only undertaken depending on where the tumor or tumors are located, how healthy the patient is and how many surgeries the patient has had for gigantism. The first surgery is usually more successful than subsequent surgeries. More than one surgery may be needed.
Radiation may be used to help shrink tumors before surgery or when surgery is not an option.
Medications used help to stop growth hormones from working, help internal organs like the liver function properly and to help stop the growth of prolactinomas or noncancerous tumors in the pituitary gland.
Unfortunately, as far as scientists are aware, there is no known or certain way to prevent gigantism. This is because they do not fully understand the primary function of a pituitary tumor.
Additionally, due to the numerous causes of gigantism, it becomes even more difficult to potentially prevent the disease. Genetic diseases which may lead to or result in gigantism are not preventable. However, in these cases, certain aspects of the condition, namely tumors, may be prevented. The development of the disease may be prevented by surgical removal of tumors. In individuals who do not respond positively to the surgical removal of tumors, radiation therapy may also be considered.
Fortunately, gigantism can be diagnosed quite early in one’s youth. If gigantism is suspected, it is possible to diagnose it; this allows for early prevention of certain aspects of the disease.