Growth hormone (GH) deficiency is when the pituitary gland doesn’t make enough growth hormone. GH is needed to stimulate growth of bone and other tissues. This condition can occur at any age. GH deficiency does not affect a child’s intelligence.
What causes GH deficiency in a child?
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).
Which children are at risk for GH deficiency?
A child is more at risk for GH deficiency if he or she has any of these:
- Brain injury
- Brain tumor
- Radiation treatment to the head
- Some children with the problem have none of the risk factors.
What are the symptoms of GH deficiency in a child?
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:
- A younger-looking face
- A chubby body build
- Impaired hair growth
- Delayed puberty
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.
How is GH deficiency diagnosed in a child?
To diagnose GH deficiency, your child’s healthcare provider needs to check for other conditions such as:
Normal variations of growth, such as familial short stature
Other disorders, such as thyroid hormone deficiency or kidney disease
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:
Blood tests. These are done to check growth hormone and other related hormone levels. Sometimes the blood tests are done after your child is given a substance that would normally raise growth hormone levels.
X-ray. This test uses a small amount of radiation to make images of tissues inside the body. An X-ray may be done of the left hand and wrist. This can estimate your child’s bone age. With delayed puberty or hormone problems, bone age is often less than calendar age.
CT scan. This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan can show bones, muscles, fat, and organs. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays.
MRI. This test uses large magnets and a computer to make detailed images of tissues in the body.
How is GH deficiency treated in a child?
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.
This is everything you need to know about Growth Hormone Deficiency in Children.