What is Gigantism?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Gigantism is a childhood disorder that causes a child to grow much more than his or her peers, developing an unusually large size. There are some complications that can be associated with gigantism, leading most people to choose to treat it even if they are not concerned about the unusual stature the patient will eventually acquire. Treatment of gigantism can be very successful in most cases.

Gigantism is usually caused by a benign tumor located on the pituitary gland.
Gigantism is usually caused by a benign tumor located on the pituitary gland.

This condition is quite rare. It is usually caused by a benign tumor located on the pituitary gland. The tumor triggers the increased production of human growth hormone (HGH) and this leads to increased size. The bones will grow longer and heavier, and the hands and feet will also be noticeably larger than usual. People with gigantism can develop delayed puberty, cardiovascular problems, and other endocrine problems in association with the imbalance of hormones in the body.

Doctors can diagnose a child with gigantism after the child exceeds the growth curves for other children from similar backgrounds and shows no signs of slowing down. Medical imaging studies of the head usually reveal a tumor, and the blood contains elevated levels of HGH and may betray other variations in hormone levels as well, depending on the cause of the condition.

Surgery to remove the tumor is a highly effective treatment. If surgery is not an option, medications can be used to suppress the production of human growth hormone and slow the rate of growth. Patients who have had surgery may require hormone replacement, if it is necessary to take out the entire pituitary gland, and they usually need to be monitored for life for any signs of hormone imbalances.

When a patient is diagnosed with gigantism, the doctor can discuss the available treatment options and provide treatment recommendations to address the specifics of the patient's case. If the gigantism is caused by something other than a pituitary tumor, other treatment options may be considered.

If levels of growth hormone start to spike after the growth plates in the bones have fused, the patient develops a condition known as acromegaly. In acromegaly, instead of growing larger, the patient experiences deformities of the bones because the body is trying to grow, but the bones are not flexible enough to allow it. Acromegaly can cause distinctive deformities of the face, hands, and feet and is also associated with other endocrine changes that can create complications for the patient.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I hope someone can give me a clue. I'm 32 years old, and I kept growing. I used to accurately measure myself (So I know I'm 1/4 inch smaller at the end of the day). So, at 23 years old, I was 6'4'' 1/2, and now I'm 3/4 inches taller. Digging in my memories, I do think I grew 1/4 inch in the last 6-7 years. I'm the only one this tall in my family. Still, I don't have big hands or a huge face (forgive my poor vocabulary, I'm French). So, in the end, my problem is that three years ago, my joints started hurting. I was a computer technician and I had to stop. It may have been simple tennis elbow, but my knees hurt, even though I almost never run, you know. So, the doctor had me tested for growth hormones, but nothing came up (neither in any other blood test). Any clue?


I told a doctor at a normal visit that I was concerned about my daughter's growth. I noticed her growth was extreme because she is my fifth child to raise. The doctor did say from her blood tests that her growth hormone was a bit high. Yet he did not suggest any follow up three years ago. Now, she is the youngest in her grade and a head taller than most of her classmates. I have calculated her growth to be a quarter inch per month.

I did get her hand x-rayed and this showed her bone age to be older than her actual age by two years. At age four, prior to school, I had a cyst on her ear removed and then after that, one grew on her shoulder that was also removed. I have pointed one out to every doctor she has seen that she has a cyst on the back side of her neck yet they all seem to brush this aside in any discussion.

Now, I have a height calculator telling me she could be possibly 6ft 7in when she is grown. Her thyroid is normal but she is overweight, also. Generally, taller children are thinner than other children. I am a frustrated mom. I want to have someone to talk with who has experience with this issue. I do not feel that I am just that parent who thinks oddly and is looking for attention.

All of my children are tall and thin except this child. This child is far taller than any of the other children I have raised, and has a faster rate of growth. Because of her height she is treated older. Every year from two up I have had to explain her age to keep others from expecting her to understand above her ability. I am blessed that she has friends at school. She has been teased about her weight. I think kids think her height is cool though.

There is a balance at the age of eight. This I believe will change as she gets taller than the others with a larger difference. What should I do? I am frustrated and in need of advice.


@Rugbygirl: Please read up and educate yourself before enlightening others with false truths. Gigantism is not genetic. About 99.9 percent Of the time, gigantism is caused by a tumor (usually benign) on the pituitary gland that causes over production of growth hormone.


So, I have a question. I’m trying to think how to phrase it without sounding like a complete idiot.

I know a man who is over seven feet tall. He is so large that in some ways he has a sort of grotesque look. His voice is incredibly deep, and his facial features are quite large.

Is it safe to say that all people who are that far above and beyond average height have gigantism?

And if that is so, doesn’t that mean that tons of athletes have gigantism and are not seeking treatment for it?

It just seems like there isn’t a whole lot of definitive ways to diagnose the disorder other than, “Gee. You’re way bigger than everyone else. You must be a giant.”

I don’t mean to make light of a serious disorder or be rude at all, I’m just a little bit lost as to who exactly might or might not have this issue.


Although there is help for folks with gigantism today, I think it is very important not to underestimate the magnitude of the problem. This is not just something that makes you grow a whole lot; it also affects your entire body.

Granted, there are people out there who live with the disorder and never have any major difficulties functioning. There are, however, a huge number of people who not only keep growing up, but also growing out.

This affects their cardiovascular system, cholesterol and blood pressure, among other things. Sometimes the medications to control the hormones just aren’t enough.

Science has made some tremendous strides, but we aren’t completely there yet.


I'm curious to know how long it takes doctors to determine when a child has gigantism disorder. The article says that doctors watch for measurements to go to higher than normal levels. When would those height and weight levels prompt a doctor to do a scan of the brain and measure the blood levels of human growth hormone?

If the symptoms looked like gigantism, say at age 3, what would the treatment be?

I've heard about the opposite problem when children grow very slowly and have a low level of human growth hormone. Some kids are given human growth hormones, but it's a little controversial. I wouldn't like to have to make that decision, as a parent.


It's a real blessing that now there is surgery that can cure or minimize the gigantism disorder. By taking out the tumor in the pituitary gland, the gland cannot overstimulate the production of human growth hormone. Then the rate of growth will slow down.

Before an effective surgery for human gigantism was developed, the life of someone with pituitary gigantism could be very sad. They were often gawked at or made fun of. Some had other physical problems. Some ended up working in a circus or side-show.


@malmal - The theory that individuals with gigantism all die young doesn't hold water, either. The "Kentucky Giant", Martin Van Buren Bates, lived into his 70s, and was healthy the whole time. He eventually died of nephritis, which is a kidney inflammation -- nothing to do with his gigantism.


@MissDaphne - I agree, thank goodness there are gigantism treatments now! Because of complications and their growth being too much for their own bodies, I've heard of many giants throughout history dying young.

By contrast, it seems that people with dwarfism can live a particularly long time. I wonder if there's any connection, or if it's just individual traits of their conditions?


When I think of gigantism, I tend to think of the wrestler Andre the Giant. I love his performance in The Princess Bride. Andre had all of the typical gigantism symptoms such as enormous height, weight, and acromegaly.

When he did The Princess Bride, Andre's acromegaly was so bad that he had to wear back braces, and the scene where he catches Princess Buttercup as she jumps down to him had o be faked because his back was so bad that he couldn't even hold her weight.

I think wrestling would be an awful profession to be in if you had gigantism, because the acromegaly eventually puts you into constant pain. Of course, the impressive physical size used to make people with this condition ideal candidates for pro wrestling stars.


Although having a gigantism disorder is rare, I have seen a child who was diagnosed with this. I know that his parents were so thankful for the surgery the doctors were able to perform to remove the tumor.

It would be very hard for a kid to grow up with this problem. Both kids and adults stare at anything that is a little bit different, and this would be no exception.

It's hard enough to grow up when you are normal, but I can't imagine what it would be like if your body just continued to grow. The physical and emotional toll would be enormous.


It's wonderful that there are treatments for gigantism now. I think a lot of people don't realize what a serious disease it can be. On an otherwise excruciatingly boring field trip, I once saw a life-size statue of Robert Wadlow, tallest human being who ever lived. When he died, he was nearly nine feet tall - and still growing. I'm not sure what the particular cause of his gigantism was, but it resulted in continuous growth.

He was only twenty-two when he died, and his gigantism was indirectly the cause. He walked with a cane and wore braces on his legs; one of them caused a sore, and he died of infection. He looks a bit like an old man in his statue. They say in Alton, Illinois (his home town), that he was a truly wonderful human being.


@anon170397 - Are you asking how a person can be born with gigantism because they wouldn't be able to grow giant-sized in the womb? If that's what you mean, I'm assuming you can be born with it because gigantism's causes are genetic. So even if you hadn't started growing like crazy yet, you would still have the basic genetic disorder that would cause you to grow uncontrollably later on.


How can you be born with gigantism?

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