Appearance change might be because of acromegaly: doctor

By Wan Yu-chen and Sherry Hsiao  /  Staff reporter, with staff writer

Fri, Sep 20, 2019 - Page 2

Changes in physical appearance could be a sign of acromegaly, Tien Kai-jen (田凱仁), an endocrinologist in Tainan, said on Sept. 5 after a 55-year-old man was not diagnosed until an emergency hospital visit.

The man, surnamed Chen (陳), was on his way to a wedding on New Year’s Eve in 2012 when he was admitted to Chi Mei Medical Center after experiencing palpitations, a headache, rapid breathing and sweating.

Doctors found a 1.7cm tumor in his pituitary gland and diagnosed him with acromegaly.

Chen underwent surgery to remove the tumor and, with medication and regular follow-up visits, his condition is now under control, medical staff said.

The changes in his physical appearance were not obvious to him or his family, said Chen, who was invited back to the hospital to share his experience.

It was only until his hospital admission that he realized that changes in his body — such as his fingers and neck becoming slightly thicker — had been because of acromegaly, he said.

Although he requires long-term medication to control his condition, it has not had a huge effect on his life, he said, adding that the doctors at the hospital saved his life.

It is difficult to detect symptoms of acromegaly and people with the condition often have a low awareness of it, Tien said.

The average age of onset is 40, but often treatment is delayed by five to seven years, he said.

Many people with acromegaly develop complications such as high blood pressure, diabetes and cardiovascular disease, he said.

Delayed and improper treatment could shorten a person’s lifespan by 10 to 15 years, he said.

About 90 percent of people with acromegaly have pituitary tumors, with symptoms including enlarged forehead, nose, tongue, hands and feet, he said.

Treatment is primarily removing the tumor and the condition is controlled with medication, he said, adding that there is no permanent cure.

People should seek medical advice as soon as possible if they notice obvious changes to their physical appearance or similar symptoms, Tien said.