Pituitary. 2006;9(4):297-303. doi: 10.1007/s11102-006-0409-4.


Acromegaly is a slowly progressive disease characterized by 30% increase of mortality rate for cardiovascular disease, respiratory complications and malignancies. The estimated prevalence of the disease is 40 cases/1000000 population with 3-4 new cases/1000000 population per year. The biochemical diagnosis is based upon the demonstration of high circulating levels of GH and IGF-I. A random GH level lower than 0.4 microg/l and an IGF-I value in the age- and sex-matched normal range makes the diagnosis of acromegaly unlikely. In doubtful cases, the lack of GH suppressibility below 1 microg/l (0.3 microg/l according to recent reports) after an oral glucose load will confirm the diagnosis. A pituitary adenoma is demonstrated in most cases by CT scan or MRI. A negative X-ray finding or the presence of empty sella do not exclude the diagnosis. Cardiovascular complications (acromegalic cardiomyopathy and arterial hypertension) should be looked for and, if present, followed-up by echocardiography and 24h-electrocardiogram. Sleep apnoea, when clinically suspicious, should be confirmed by polisomnography. At the moment of diagnosis all patients should undergo colonscopy. Lipid profile should be obtained and glucose tolerance evaluated. Surgery, radiotherapy and medical treatment represent the therapeutic options for acromegaly. The outcome of transsphenoidal surgery is far better for microadenomas (80-90%) than for macroadenomas (less than 50%), which unluckily represent more than 70% of all GH-secreting pituitary tumours. Therefore, pituitary surgery is the first line treatment for microadenomas. Medical therapy is based on GH-lowering drugs (somatostatin receptor agonists and, in some cases, dopaminergic agents) and GH receptor antagonists (pegvisomant). The former are traditionally indicated after unsuccessful surgery and while awaiting the effectiveness of radiation therapy. However, GH-lowering drugs are also used as primary therapy when surgery is contraindicated or in the case of large GH-secreting macroadenomas which are not likely to be completely removed by surgery. These compounds may also be indicated in the preoperative management of some acromegalic patients in order to lower the risk of surgical and anaesthetic complications. For the moment pegvisomant is indicated for patients resistant to the GH-lowering drugs and there is no evidence for drug-induced enlargement of the pituitary tumour. In order to avoid this possibility, however, a combination of pegvisomant and GH-lowering compound can also be conceived. With pegvisomant, IGF-I plasma levels are the marker of therapeutic efficacy and normalize in 97% of patients. Radiotherapy is employed sparingly due to the number of side effects (80% of hypopituitarism). It is indicated after unsuccessful surgical and/or medical treatment and allows the control of hormonal secretion and tumour growth in approx. 40% and 100% of cases, respectively. Acromegaly is defined as controlled when, in the absence of clinical activity, IGF-I levels are in the age- and sex-matched normal range and GH is normally suppressible by the oral glucose load.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acromegaly / blood
  • Acromegaly / etiology*
  • Acromegaly / pathology
  • Acromegaly / therapy
  • Adenoma / blood
  • Adenoma / complications*
  • Adenoma / pathology
  • Adenoma / therapy
  • Algorithms
  • Biomarkers / blood
  • Cardiovascular Diseases / etiology
  • Combined Modality Therapy
  • Dopamine Agonists / therapeutic use
  • Glucose Tolerance Test
  • Growth Hormone-Secreting Pituitary Adenoma / blood
  • Growth Hormone-Secreting Pituitary Adenoma / complications*
  • Growth Hormone-Secreting Pituitary Adenoma / pathology
  • Growth Hormone-Secreting Pituitary Adenoma / therapy
  • Hormone Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Human Growth Hormone / blood
  • Humans
  • Hypophysectomy
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I / analysis
  • Radiotherapy, Adjuvant
  • Respiration Disorders / etiology
  • Sleep Apnea Syndromes / etiology
  • Somatostatin / analogs & derivatives
  • Somatostatin / therapeutic use
  • Treatment Outcome
  • Up-Regulation


  • Biomarkers
  • Dopamine Agonists
  • Hormone Antagonists
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Somatostatin
  • Insulin-Like Growth Factor I