When the anterior portion of the pituitary gland becomes excessive in its action, there is enlargement of the hands, feet, jaws, lips, nose, and tongue, to which the general name “acromegaly” is given. Closely related is gigantism, in which all the body is affected uniformly with overgrowth.
The person who develops acromegaly first notices thickening of the soft tissues, accompanied particularly by changes in the bones. The jawbones are enlarged, and the lower jaw sticks out. The nose is thickened, the lips become coarse and protruding, and the ears become large. The hands and feet look like paws. The voice becomes deepened, due to thickening of the vocal cords. The hair grows thicker, and it appears most profusely over the whole body, both in women and in men who are affected. Soon the sex glands are found to be disturbed, and these giants fail to have the sexual power that is often associated with them. Hardly any cases are known in which women with acromegaly have had children.
Usually the great size of the person is associated with an inordinate appetite; these people eat a vast amount of food. Sometimes the disease reaches a point at which its advance ceases, so that the person will experience no further changes and will be enabled to live almost a normal existence. In other cases one portion of the body may suddenly develop a giant character, such as the great toe, or the thumb, or one or two fingers. In most cases, however, the condition proceeds gradually to the point where great weakness develops, and eventually death.
No method is known by which the growth of the gland or its excessivesecretion can be stopped by remedies given internally. Sometimes it is controlled by the use of the X ray or by surgical operation.
Giants are far more frequent among men than among women. In those cases also it is the pituitary gland that is primarily responsible. Seldom do giants reach a height greater than seven feet with a varying number of inches, although rare instances are recorded of men who reached eight feet in height. Robert Wadlow, the Alton giant, was well over eight feet tall. There are certain cases in which large size may be reached without any determinable evidence that there is anything wrong in the glandular system. Conceivably certain portions of the nervous system may be associated with the processes of growth, and the changes in the nervous system may be primarily responsible.
The one hope in a severe case of this type seems to lie in removal of the excess portions of the gland or in some effort to control the condition by attacks on other glands which may be related to the pituitary.