GH deficiency can be caused by damage to the pituitary gland or another gland called the hypothalamus. The injury can occur before birth (congenital), or during or after birth (acquired).
The pituitary gland is a pea-sized gland located at the base of the brain. It’s the master endocrine gland in the body. The pituitary gland normally releases as many as 8 different hormones. These hormones control growth, metabolism, blood pressure, and other body processes.
In rare cases, GH deficiency can be part of a genetic syndrome. In many cases, the cause of GH deficiency is not known (idiopathic).
A child is more at risk for GH deficiency if he or she has any of these:
Some children with the problem have none of the risk factors.
The main sign of GH deficiency is slow height growth each year after a child's 3rd birthday. This means grow in height of less than 3.5 cm (about 1.4 inches) a year. A child with GH deficiency may also have:
It is important to note that GH deficiency does not affect the child's intelligence.
The symptoms of GH deficiency can be like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees his or her healthcare provider for a diagnosis.
To diagnose GH deficiency, your child’s healthcare provider needs to check for other conditions such as:
The healthcare provider will ask about your child’s symptoms and health history and about your family’s health history. He or she will also give your child a physical exam. Your child's health and growth may be checked over several months.
Your child may also have tests, such as:
Your child's healthcare provider will consider his or her age, overall health, and other factors when advising treatment. Your child may need to see a pediatric endocrinologist. This is a doctor with extra training in treating children with hormone problems. This specialist will also have the best equipment to accurately measure your child's growth from month to month.
Treatment is done with daily injections of synthetic growth hormone. Results are often seen as soon as 3 to 4 months after treatment starts. The treatment lasts several years, usually until late puberty when growing is finished. The earlier the treatment is started, the better the chances that a child will have a normal or near-normal adult height that matches his or her family pattern.
Not all children respond well to growth hormone treatment. GH therapy does not make a person taller than his or her parents.
Children who are shorter than their peers may have poor self-esteem or depression. It’s important to talk about these problems with your child and your child's healthcare provider. He or she can recommend counseling or support groups for you and your child.
Talk with your child's healthcare provider about your child's potential adult height. Work with your child's healthcare providers to create an ongoing plan to manage your child’s condition.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
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