One of the most important parts of the endocrine system is the pituitary gland. It is situated in a bony pocket that is shaped like a saddle just below the central part of the brain. Combined, its two principal parts - the anterior pituitary (the larger part, which look like gland tissue) and the posterior pituitary (which looks like nerve tissue) - are about the size of the end of a finger. It is truly remarkable, therefore, how much activity can take place in so small a space.
At one point, the pituitary gland was believed to be the body's "master gland" because it produces so many essential hormones which operate directly on body tissues and regulate the hormone production of the other glands. (However, in recent studies made by endocrinologists, it was revealed that the pituitary gland is itself controlled by the hypothalamus - a part of the brain that includes vital autonomic regulatory centers.)
One of the hormones produced by the pituitary gland is aptly referred to as growth hormone, since it causes the bones and soft tissues of a child to increase in size. Two pituitary disorders are associated with the overproduction of the growth hormone: When the condition occurs after adult growth is attained, the term used is acromegaly; if excess secretion of the growth hormone occurs during childhood, it is called gigantism.
In these pituitary disorders, some of the body's bones gradually grow wider; the thickness of the soft tissues may increase as well. Both conditions can cause the hands and feet to grow to such sizes that it becomes difficult for rings and shoes to fit. Likewise, both acromegaly and gigantism can cause distortion to the head and face - there is an exaggeration of facial features, the skin thickens, the teeth spread apart, the lower jaw protrudes, and the nose, lips and ridges above the eyes become prominent.
Along with the unusual bodily manifestations mentioned, acromegaly and gigantism can cause enlargement of the vocal cords which, in turn, can cause the voice to deepen. Also in these pituitary disorders, the heart, kidneys and other internal organs may similarly grow to such unusual proportions. Additionally, those with acromegaly may experience such symptoms as headaches, fatigue, and increased sweating. But these symptoms may go unnoticed for years as they sometimes develop so slowly.
Excess secretion of growth hormone by the pituitary gland is usually caused by an overactive tumor. Therefore, treatment of acromegaly and gigantism requires removal of the tumor by surgery. Radiotherapy may also be helpful in some cases. Of course in either treatment method, the supervision of a highly trained specialist is crucial.
1. "Endocrinology Health Guide" by the University of Maryland Medical Center - http://www.umm.edu/endocrin/acromegaly.htm and http://www.umm.edu/endocrin/pitgland.htm
2. "Gigantism," Chapter 1B - Erica A. Eugster and Ora H. Pescovitz, May 19, 2004 (from Endotext.com) - http://www.endotext.org/Pediatrics/pediatrics1b/pediatrics1b.htm