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ENDOCRINOLOGY :: Growth in Children

Growth Problems

What causes growth problems?

The cause of a growth problem depends on the type of growth disorder in question. Some growth problems are genetic, while others may be caused by hormonal disorders or poor absorption of food. Causes for growth problems usually fall into the following categories:

  • familial short stature
    Familial short stature is a tendency to follow the family's inherited short stature (shortness).
  • constitutional growth delay with delayed adolescence or delayed maturation
    A child who tends to be shorter than average and who enters puberty later than average, but is growing at a normal rate. Most of these children tend to eventually grow to approximately the same height as their parents.
  • illnesses that affect the whole body (Also called systemic diseases.)
    Constant malnutrition, digestive tract diseases, kidney disease, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, and severe stress can cause growth problems.
  • endocrine (hormone) diseases
    Adequate production of the thyroid hormone is necessary for normal bone growth. Cushing's syndrome can be caused by a myriad of abnormalities that are the result of hypersecretion of corticosteroids by the adrenal gland. Growth hormone deficiency involves a problem with the pituitary gland (small gland at the base of the brain) that secretes several hormones, including growth hormone.
  • congenital (present at birth) problems in the tissues where growth occurs
    With a condition called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), slow growth within the uterus occurs during a pregnancy. The baby is born smaller in weight and length than normal, in proportion to his/her short stature.

    Having too many or too few chromosomes can result in health problems, including problems with growth. One chromosome abnormality that results from too few chromosomes is the following:

    Turner syndrome is a genetic disorder seen in girls that causes them to be shorter than others and to not mature sexually as they grow into adulthood. The severity of these problems varies among affected individuals. Other health problems may also be present involving the heart or renal system (kidneys, etc.) Many conditions can be managed or corrected by medical treatment. Turner syndrome occurs in one in 2,500 females born. The features of Turner syndrome result from having a missing X chromosome in each of the body's cells.

    There are more than 50 bone diseases that affect height and growth, many of which are genetic. The most common is achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism in which the child's arms and legs are short in proportion to his/her body length. Further, the head is often large and the trunk is normal size.
  • tall stature
    Some girls may have an abnormal tall stature for heir age if their parents are tall. In addition, a growth disorder called precocious puberty is characterized by an early onset of adolescence in which a child is tall for his/her age initially, but, due to rapid bone maturity, growth stops at an early age and they may be short as adults. There are a few genetic conditions which result in tall stature, where other health problems are also present. There are several growth disorders that are idiopathic - with no known cause for the growth problem.

What are the symptoms of growth problems?

Some growth problems may be immediately diagnosed at birth, because the infant may be abnormally small for his/her age. However, many growth problems are noticed much later, when the child appears smaller than his/her classmates, or when growth appears to be insignificant over a period of a year. The primary symptom that may indicate a growth problem is when a child grows less than two inches a year after his/her second birthday. Symptoms of growth problems may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.

How is a growth problem diagnosed?

Diagnosis of a growth problem must be made by your child's physician. The method used for diagnosis will depend on the type of growth disorder presented. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic tests may include:

  • observing the child's health and growth over a period of time
  • blood tests (to rule out hormone, chromosomal, or other disorders associated with growth failure)
  • bone x-rays - electromagnetic energy used to produce images of bones and internal organs onto film (to determine maturity and growth potential of bones).
  • examining the functions of the pituitary gland, which produces and secretes the growth hormone

Treatment for growth problems:

Specific treatment for growth problems will be determined by your child's physician based on:

  • your child's age, overall health, and medical history
  • extent of the condition
  • your child's tolerance for specific medications, procedures, or therapies
  • expectations for the course of the condition
  • your opinion or preference

Treatment of growth problems will depend on the type of growth disorder presented. If a medical condition causes the growth problem, treatment of that condition may alleviate the growth problem.

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It is important to remember the health information found on this website is for reference only not intended to replace the advice and guidance of your healthcare provider. Always seek the advice of your physician with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your physician or 911 immediately.
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