growth hormone is secreted by the anterior lobe of the pituitary gland. It controls the rate of growth of the individual, as well as determining the timing of sexual maturity. It certain cases, usually due to a micro-tumour, the gland continues to secrete growth hormone for much longer, and in greater quantities, than it should. The affected person will continue to grow upwards, as well as outwards, until secretion is stopped, by medical or surgical intervention. If unchecked, the person will take on the characteristic appearance of one suffering from acromegaly.

Acromegaly: when normal growth is complete the ends of the long bones fuse, and the person has reached their final height. If the pituitary starts to produce growth hormone again, the person will experience some upwards growth but, due to the fusion of the long bones, many bones, such as the lower jaw, will grow outwards. This leads to a characteristic appearance of the lower jaw and lips, thickening of the fingers and feet, and enlargement of cartilage structures, such as the nose and adams apple, the latter resulting in a deeper than normal voice.

The condition is not hereditary, i.e. is not passed on from parent to child via the genetic material, however, some people believe that a set of conditions, or family tendencies, can be passed on, which may make the child more likely than normal to develop the condition. In one case, a man reported that several members of his family have had several pituitary related problems: – diabetes and cryptorchidism (undescended testes), for instance.

A person with the condition will take on a certain appearance, with large hands and feet, larger facial features, jaw, and cheekbones, and of course excessive height, if affected at or before puberty.

The stature and weight attained due to gigantism can cause a reduction in mobility, and make movement awkward and slow. It can be important to maintain some form of exercise programme, to counteract this.

For more information about conditions affecting the pituitary gland contact:

The Pituitary Foundation, PO Box 1944, Bristol, BS99 2UB, UK. See website for list of telephone and fax numbers with opening hours.

The TPC GB & Ireland has a number of members who have experienced pituitary difficulties. If you would like to speak to someone who has first hand knowledge, please contact either the Pituitary Foundation or the club HQ (click on Contact Details in the menu on the left), and we shall do our best to put you in touch with someone who is willing to give you the benefit of their experience.