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Growth hormone deficiency

Contents of this page:


Endocrine glands
Endocrine glands
Height/weight chart
Height/weight chart

Alternative Names    Return to top

Panhypopituitarism; Dwarfism; Pituitary dwarfism

Definition    Return to top

Growth hormone deficiency involves abnormally short stature with normal body proportions. Growth hormone deficiency may be congenital (present at birth) or acquired (the result of an injury or medical condition).

Causes    Return to top

An abnormally short height in childhood may occur if the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone. Most of the time, no underlying cause is found, but it can be caused by absence of the pituitary gland or severe brain injury.

Growth retardation may first be noticed in infancy and continue throughout childhood. The child's "growth curve," which is usually plotted on a standardized growth chart by the pediatrician, may range from flat (no growth) to very shallow (minimal growth). Normal puberty may or may not occur, depending on how well the pituitary gland can produce adequate hormone levels other than growth hormone.

Growth hormone deficiency may be associated with deficiencies of other hormones, including the following:

Physical defects of the face and skull can also be associated with pituitary gland or pituitary function abnormalities. A small percentage of infants with cleft lip and cleft palate have decreased growth hormone levels.

Although it is uncommon, growth hormone deficiency may also be diagnosed in adults. Possible causes include:

Symptoms    Return to top

Exams and Tests    Return to top

A physical examination including weight, height, and body proportions will show signs of slowed growth rate and deviation from normal growth curves.

Tests may include the following:

Treatment    Return to top

Synthetic growth hormone can be used for children with growth hormone deficiency. This treatment requires the assistance of a pediatric endocrinologist. Treatment with synthetic (recombinant) human growth hormone is generally considered to be safe. Side effects are rare.

If growth hormone is deficient, only synthetic growth hormone is given. If other hormones are also deficient, additional hormone replacement preparations are required.

Outlook (Prognosis)    Return to top

Growth rates are improved in most children treated with growth hormones, although the effectiveness may decrease with prolonged treatment.

Possible Complications    Return to top

If left untreated, extremely short stature and delayed puberty will result from this condition.

In the past, some patients acquired Creutzfeldt-Jacob disease (the human form of "mad cow" disease) from human-derived growth hormone that was used to treat growth deficiencies. This medication has been removed from the market.

Synthetic growth hormone is used instead and carries no risk of infectious disease.

When to Contact a Medical Professional    Return to top

Call your health care provider if your child seems abnormally short for his or her age.

Prevention    Return to top

Most cases are not preventable.

Review your child's growth chart with your physician after each check-up. If your child's growth rate is dropping or your child's projected adult height is much shorter than an average height of both parents, evaluation by a specialist is recommended.

Adjusted average height of both parents is as follows:

Update Date: 2/27/2008

Updated by: Rachel A. Lewis, MD, FAAP, Columbia University Pediatric Faculty Practice, New York, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.

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