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Gigantism or giantism, (from Greek gigas, gigantos "giant") is a condition characterized by excessive height growth. As a medical term, gigantism is rarely used except to refer to the rare condition of pituitary gigantism due to prepubertal growth hormone excess. There is no precise definition of the degree of tallness that qualifies a person to be termed a "giant." The term has been typically applied to those whose height is not just in the upper 1% of the population but several standard deviations above mean for persons of the same sex, age, and ethnic ancestry. more...

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Typical adult heights of Americans and Europeans to whom the term might be applied are 210 - 240 cm (7 - 8 feet) though it may be possible for a person to grow up to 270 cm (9 feet) or taller. The term is rarely applied to basketball players and those whose heights appear to be the healthy result of normal genetics and nutrition.

Pituitary gigantism

Pituitary gigantism due to growth hormone excess is the single condition that accounts for nearly all cases of pathologic extreme height. The excess growth hormone usually results from oversecretion by a group of somatotrope cells of the anterior pituitary gland (termed a "somatotrope adenoma"). These cells do not respond to normal controls of growth or function. They grow very slowly, so that for many years the only effects of such an adenoma are the effects of excessive growth hormone.

The primary effect of growth hormone excess in childhood is excessive growth, but the tallness is accompanied by a characteristic physique recognizable to an endocrinologist. The typical physique involves heavy, thick bones, with large hands and feet and a heavy jaw. Once puberty is complete and adult height is achieved, continued thickening of the skin and growth of the jaw results in a combination of features referred to as acromegaly. Over decades, such an adenoma may reach a large enough size (2 cm or more in diameter) to cause headaches, impair vision, or damage other pituitary functions. Many years of growth-hormone excess can cause other problems as well.

If pituitary gigantism or acromegaly is suspected by a physician, the simplest diagnostic screening test is measurement of insulin-growth factor 1 in the blood. This is usually quite elevated but levels must be interpreted in relation to age and pubertal status. Additional confirmatory testing may include magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the pituitary to look for a visible adenoma, and suppressibility of growth hormone levels by glucose. Treatment depends on the size of the adenoma and may involve removal by a neurosurgeon, drugs such as octreotide or bromocriptine, or radiation. Treatment is discussed in more detail in the acromegaly article.

Childhood pituitary gigantism is a rare condition, and those affected are often unusual enough to attain a degree of celebrity status (e.g., André the Giant) Acromegaly is the term used for the condition of growth hormone excess when it occurs in adults. Acromegaly is a far more common disease in adults than pituitary gigantism is in children.

Other conditions of overgrowth or excessive tallness in childhood

Children who are excessively tall are often referred to pediatric endocrinologists for evaluation. The majority of children who seem excessively tall or large to their parents usually have a combination of simple familial tallness and childhood obesity.


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Big schlock candy Mountain: the many meanings of Mount Rushmore - Culture & Reviews - Critical Essay
From Reason, 2/1/03 by Charles Paul Freund

UNLIKE THE PRESIDENTIAL statuary and monuments that festoon Washington and later became tourist attractions, Mount Rushmore's quartet of colossal faces was conceived as a tourist attraction (to bolster the faltering local economy) and only afterward took on deeper monumental meaning. For people who perceive it in grand terms, Rushmore is a patriotic psalm in stone, one that catches the national spirit in the true national setting, as opposed to a memorial set m a corrupt, bureaucratized capital.

In South Dakota, the visage of American greatness looms over the vast plain and stares serenely into...what? A still unfolding destiny manifest only to the carved heroes' ever-open eyes? Or are these same icons unwilling witnesses to the mess that later generations have made of their shared presidential achievement?

But Rushmore's gigantism certainly doesn't have grand meaning for everybody, as a pair of new works about the big faces and their obsessed sculptor, Gutzon Borglum, reminds us. The mountain's primary visual association--aside from souvenir postcards--remains its role as the climactic setting for Alfred Hitchcock's 1959 thriller North by Northwest, and there will always be visitors who come to look at Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, and Teddy Roosevelt but can't help seeing Gary Grant, Eva Marie Saint, James Mason, and Martin Landau instead. John Taliaferro, in his fine new history of the sculpture, Great White Fathers (PublicAffairs), notes that a recent, expensive upgrade of Rushmore's visitors' center faced stiff opposition because, among other reasons, it destroyed the old visitors' center where Hitchcock filmed some scenes and thus broke Rushmore's nostalgic connection to classic Hollywood.

There's always been another camp of people who regard Rushmore as little more than Big Kitsch, and not very American kitsch at that, To them, taking a perfectly good Dakota mountain and carving really huge faces on it seems a rather pharaonic sort of enterprise that is not merely in bad taste but inconsistent with the republican ideals the result is supposed to celebrate. It isn't that Washington, Jefferson, and the rest don't deserve grand memorialization; they certainly do. But Rushmore's serene faces on the plains invite, for some, great-man cultism, if not an overtly quasi-religious reaction. On the other hand, building a giant obelisk to memorialize George Washington in the capital was an even more obviously pharaonic gesture than is Rushmore, and it may be that the urge to classical colossalism trumps all politics.

There are new, emerging ways to perceive Rushmore, too, thus suggesting that the monument has a vital place in the national imagination. One of these new ways is as an unfinished work. That is, some people see the mountain as a legitimate tableau of American greatness to which they hope to add their own favorite president. Certain of Ronald Reagan's enthusiasts, for example, have lobbied to have their man's face added, though there is probably no stable place on Rushmore to carve him or anyone else. The reason that Teddy Roosevelt seems so tightly squeezed into the current lineup is Borglum's discovery that Rushmore wouldn't support his original, more widely spaced conception. Apparently, you can't put anyone to Washington's right without threatening to bring down much of the existing facade.

It may come as a surprise to many that, for a few people, Mount Rushmore is actually a place of evil. But a NewYork-based grad student named. Jesse Larner has written nearly 400 pages attempting to expose the mountain's negative side. In Mount Rushmore: An Icon Reconsidered (Thunder's Mouth/Nation Books) Larner argues that the sculpture is, in a phrase he quotes, "a monument to whiteness."

Here, blares the dust jacket, is a revered place of pilgrimage in the middle of Lakota Sioux country, portraying four men who, whatever their other achievements, "were deeply involved in the national project of wiping out the American Indian." Here's a grand sculpture created by a man, Borglum, who was "a highranking member of the Ku Klux Klan and a virulent racist." Indeed, here is a "mountain that came into the possession of the United States through the abrogation of an 1868 treaty with the Lakota." Such a background, says Lamer, cannot help but affect Rushmore's message. Indeed, writes Lamer, some disaffected young Dakotans would like to "blow it up," though Lamer doesn't go so far.

Is it true that Rushmore's racially charged back story must affect its message? It might be true if Rushmore had only a single message to express. But obviously Mount Rushmore plays a more complex role than that. Like everything that emerges at the hand of man, its meaning is fluid. Borglum's backers wanted one thing (tourism), Borglum gave them another (monumentality); Borglum's audience is taking away a variety of meanings.

The point of an effort like Lamer's, if he is successful, is not so much that he is revealing Rushmore's true meaning; it is that he is expanding the range of Rushmore's numerous and often conflicting meanings. The very same issue of a racially charged origin is part of the story of many American institutions (including the national parks, which were established in part to give the white race somewhere to rough it, and thus to avoid degenerating). The question is whether these dark sides of American history are alive in any meaningful way. Lamer may condemn the sculpture and its secret history, but the issue now is whether anyone celebrates Rushmore as "a monument to whiteness."

If artifacts like Mount Rushmore have a secret, it is their ability to inspire the most unexpected reactions. An especially appealing perception of the place came from Cher, who believed that the faces were natural, uncreated formations. At least, that understanding of the place has been attributed to the actress-singer. It may seem unlikely that Cher really thought such a thing (or does it?), but it's too good a story to check.

Charles Paul Freund ( is a reason senior editor.

COPYRIGHT 2003 Reason Foundation
COPYRIGHT 2003 Gale Group

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