Saved by Selfies: Doc Uses Photos to Diagnose Rare Case of Acromegaly

Among the many uses of social media, medical diagnosis for rare diseases, for everything from acromegaly to Zellweger spectrum syndromes, may not be the first that comes to mind. But in the case of Lauren Bates, her frequent selfies made it possible to discern the nature of her disease.

At no time in history have we been more documented by photos and these images can be used as a time capsule of sorts. For the 26-year-old Brit, who suffered for years from a “mystery illness” that was causing her hands, feet and facial features to grow exponentially, seeing the transformation occur on the posts of her Facebook page led to a meaningful diagnosis.

According to a report in the Daily Mail, her general practitioner deduced the problem after reviewing images of Bates and diagnosed her with acromegaly, a rare disease caused by an overproduction of growth hormone (GH) due to a tumor on the pituitary gland.

The rare condition affects only 60 out of 100,000 and typically does not present until the person is in his or her 40’s. The fact that doctors believe the condition began when Bates was in her teens is very rare indeed.

At a time when most adolescents stop growing, Bates growth spurt seemed to just be taking off. At age 17, she went from wearing a size six shoe to a size nine over the next seven years.

Along with overgrowth of the extremities and cranium, acromegaly also causes conditions including hypertension, diabetes and heart disease.

Bates’ tumor had grown so large that it was impairing her optic nerve and brain, according to the Daily Mail. Although she lost vision in her right eye due to the tumor, thanks to early diagnosis, prompt surgery removed the over-active, but benign mass. Many of the long-term affects of acromegaly were curtailed.

Bates also underwent radiation therapy and was a prescribed medication to help keep the tumor at bay. Although it is uncertain whether her enlarged hands and feet will return to “normal” size, she has already reported improvement in her overall well-being. To say the least, her more recent Facebook posts are much cheerier.

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