What happens if you have gigantism?

We probably know a person who appears bigger than us and most likely is because of excessive body weight or obesity. It is true that a person may look bigger than us because of body weight but do you know there are actually people who appear bigger than others because of other reasons apart from weight issues? If you saw a child who appears bigger than any other child who is really tall for his or her age, this might be a case of gigantism. Health screening can help evaluate the child if it is normal for them to have such growth.

          Gigantism is a rare condition that is caused by problems with growth hormones. Growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland. Gigantism is usually caused by benign tumour in the pituitary gland affecting the production of the growth hormones, leading to excess growth hormone. Abdominal and blood malignancies may cause acromegaly.  In case of a rare genetic condition, gigantism will not have anything to do with tumour or malignancies as the gene itself causes the excess growth hormones. A person with a family history of gigantism usually has symptoms of gigantism in their teenage years.

          What happens if you have gigantism? Since gigantism is associated with overproduction of growth hormones, you can expect body changes related to excess growth. The most visible feature is having a large body stature with increased height. Other symptoms include prominent forehead, protruding jaw, unusual features of the face such as broad nose, large head and large hands or feet with thick fingers and toes. Puberty is also affected causing a person to have delayed puberties. Gigantism can cause you to feel constantly weak, excessive sweating and a huge appetite. You may experience headaches, dizziness and an upset stomach. Some even have problems with eyesight such as vision loss or blurry vision due to the tumour affecting the optic nerve involved with vision.

          Gigantism is easily detected by doctors just by looking at a person’s appearance. To diagnose gigantism, doctors usually order further tests such as hormones and imagine tests. In hormone testing, doctors are looking for elevated blood IGF-1 level and growth hormone levels to diagnose gigantism. Prolactin level may be examined in the presence of galactorrhoea. Imaging tests using CT or MRI scans are used to look for tumours. Since gigantism is associated with many other syndromes such as neurofibromatosis and McCune-Albright syndrome, further test and examination is done to detect the syndrome respectively.

          Treatments of gigantism depend on the cause of the gigantism. In case of gigantism caused by tumour, surgery is firstly considered. Medical therapy in the form of medication is given when surgery is not possible or when surgery/radiation therapy is not effective controlling the growth hormones. Medications include somatostatin, octreotide, cabergoline and pegvisomant. These medications are used to help suppress growth hormone production.

          Gigantism is so much more than just having a big body and being taller than anyone else. People with gigantism do suffer as many symptoms can be causing great discomfort that last for a lifetime. They also have high risk for many other diseases such as hypertension, heart diseases such as cardiomyopathy, sleep disorder like sleep apnoea, diabetes, vertebral fractures and joint problems such as arthropathy. Hence, treating gigantism helps to curb these diseases from developing. A person with gigantism may need to have regular check-ups with doctors to evaluate their health level throughout their life and to detect problems early.

          Gigantism may be confused with acromegaly as both involve the overproduction of growth hormones. Gigantism occurs in children before growth plates (epiphyseal) of the bones have fused and acromegaly usually occur in adulthood between the age of 20 and 40 years old. Most prominent sign of gigantism is the big stature and overly tall height whereas in the acromegaly is the changes of face with coarse appearance. Since acromegaly occurs in adulthood, it does not affect puberty such as in gigantism.

       Unfortunately, there is no way of preventing gigantism from happening. Treatment available helps to reduce the risk for complications and to improve a person’s quality of life. Beside the physical issues faced by patients with gigantism, emotional and psychological issues may arise. For example, it can be difficult for a child to buy their favourite clothes and shoes as they will be faced with limited size and unavailable for them. Another issue is the muscle weakness making them feel they are unable to be as active as their friends could.

          In essence, there can be many things that could happen if you have gigantism. Living with gigantism requires great strength and perseverance as this disease is a disease that may last for a lifetime. Treatment can be successful at controlling the growth hormones but symptoms may still be there. Regular check-up and routine appointments must be attended by patients with gigantism. Early diagnosis is vital to prevent more complications. This is why it is important to get yourself or someone you love checked by a doctor if there are symptoms relating to gigantism.

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