Gigantism is a medical condition that results in an increased height and overall growth that goes beyond what is considered average or normal. It is usually because of the excessive production of a growth hormone that exists during childhood. The hormone is present while the growth plates are open and it affects the endocrine system. Gigantism usually is evident at childhood during an early age.
Statistics About Gigantism
1. About 3 people out of every 1 million have some form of gigantism.
2. There have been 100 known cases of gigantism in the United States to date.
3. People with gigantism have a 2x-3x higher mortality rate than people without the disorder.
4. Although there are rare cases where gigantism is hereditary, it is not considered to be a genetic disorder.
5. Men and women may be affected by giantism equally, though it has been reported with a female-to-male ratio of 1:2.
6. All racial demographics have the same gigantism rates within the population.
7. It can take up to 10 years for a medical treatment for this disorder to become effective and treatment often leaves lower levels of other hormones that are required.
8. There are around 117 new cases per million per year.
9. When late onset gigantism occurs, it usually develops in adults between the 30-50 age demographic.
10. Late onsent gigantism affects bone structure and thickness, but does not actually affect height.
11. Surgery is the best form of treatment and cures 80% of the cases of gigantism.
12. Hormone treatments for gigantism need to be taken every 2 to 4 weeks.
13. When surgery is not an option, gamma knife radiosurgery may become viable. The problem is that hormone levels with this treatment can take several years to return to normal.
14. Robert Wadlow weighed 439 pounds at his death, which happened at the age of 22. He showed that there was no indication that there would be an end to his growth even at the time he passed away.
15. Wadlow’s death wasn’t caused by gigantism. A faulty brace irritated his ankle, which caused the blister, and it was infected with parasites. Despite emergency surgery, he was unable to overcome the infection.
16. The size of Wadlow’s shoe: 37AA.
Consequences of Gigantism
The consequences of gigantism can actually be quite severe. Not only are headaches and deafness common with gigantism, but thickened facial features, thicker fingers and toes, and high levels of fatigue are all common within this disorder. Because the larger human body the system so greatly, many of those who are affected by this end up dying a premature death simply because their bodies cannot keep up with the growth that is occurring. Circulatory and skeletal problems are very common with gigantism. This is why early diagnosis and treatment is so critical with this disorder.
Many people with gigantism wind up being at least 7 feet tall. Robert Wadlow, who is the tallest person known to have ever lived, reached the height of 8’11”. Just being tall is not an indicator of gigantism however because there are also changes in the width and girth of most body parts. It is usually caused by a tumor on the pituitary gland of the brain and can even be passed on genetically in certain circumstances.
Stories of gigantism date back to the biblical era. In the story of David and Goliath, the height of Goliath is remarkably similar to that of Robert Wadlow. It should also be noted that a member of Goliath’s family also had six fingers on each hand and foot, so genetic changes within the direct family structure make the story very plausible. As the statistics of gigantism show, this disorder might be very rare, but it makes a large impact on the world when it occurs.
Additional Interesting Facts About Gigantism
Gigantism, to some extent, is celebrated within our society. There have been many famous individuals who have had this disorder and gone on to have successful careers. The only trouble with gigantism is that many who have it wind up dying a premature death.
Most of gigantism are because of a tumor on the pituitary gland. When this tumor is removed, hormone levels can restore themselves to normal levels while the height that is achieved remains permanent. There are four other fairly common causes of gigantism, but all of them include having noncancerous tumors or abnormal growth that affects hormone production.
Having a child who is tall for their age does not necessarily mean that they have gigantism. When height is combined with thicker body parts, course facial features, or flatter noses, lips, and tongues, then this may be gigantism and a doctor would need to be consulted. The tumor on the pituitary gland generally keeps growing and eventually may press on the brain. People who have gigantism that is untreated often experience nausea, vision problems, and headaches.
In children with this disorder, weakness is a common side effect. The body is growing so quickly that strength of the muscles cannot keep up with it. There may also be a delayed puberty in both boys and girls. If gigantism is suspected, a doctor will measure the level of growth hormone and IGF-1 that is within the body. If there is evidence of hormone imbalance, a treatment plan will be initiated. There are also several new growth hormone blocking drugs that are on the market today that could be useful for people with gigantism when they do not respond to the normal treatments. Some of these drugs only have to be administered once per month to be effective.
The long-term outlook for children with gigantism is good. If the tumor returns after a successful surgery or a surgery is unable to be attempted, there are still options to help a child live a fulfilling, happy life.