A deficiency of the growth hormone in children can be associated with the abnormalities of the pituitary gland. This article dwells on the causes, as well as the symptoms of this condition.
The growth hormone is secreted by the pituitary gland, a very small gland located at the base of the brain. This hormone is known as ‘somatotropin’. This human growth hormone stimulates the secretion of another hormone, known as insulin-like growth factor (IGF-1) when it enters the liver. The term ‘growth hormone deficiency’ refers to the lack of ‘somatotropin’, which regulates the normal growth and cell reproduction.
A deficiency of this hormone can occur at any age, but is usually more common in children. Children with this condition usually fail to attain the normal height. However, their body can develop in proportion, despite the short stature. Apart from impairing normal growth and development, it can affect their bone mass development.
A deficiency of the hormone somatotropin can be a congenital condition. Rarely, it can be a genetic condition as well. In some instances, it can also be a hereditary condition. But usually, a deficiency of the growth hormone can be associated with an abnormality of the pituitary gland. Hypopituitarism is a condition, which can result in the reduced secretion of this growth hormone, along with the deficiency of other hormones secreted by the pituitary gland.
For some children, a deficiency of the growth hormone can be an acquired condition. This condition can develop after birth due to the damage to the pituitary gland, which can be caused by a severe trauma or injury to the head, infections, and brain tumors. Receiving radiation to the head for cancer treatment can also raise the risk for this condition. Sometimes, the pituitary gland may produce enough growth hormone, but the body may fail to respond to the hormone.
Some other possible causes include, a lack of oxygen at birth, a deficiency of the stimulatory hormone released by the hypothalamus, abnormalities of the hormone receptors, and an autoimmune attack. Moreover, the functions of the pituitary gland can be adversely affected by certain health conditions like renal failure, Turner syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, and diabetes.
This condition slows down the rate of growth of the affected children. Children usually grow 2 inches per year. So, a child with a low level of growth hormone can grow much slowly (less than 2 inches per year). This can eventually make the child much shorter than the children of his or her age. It can also delay puberty, or in some instances the child may not reach puberty at all.
The signs of the growth hormone deficiency may not become evident in some children until they reach the age of 2 to 3 years. But in others, the signs of growth retardation may become apparent even at the age of 6 months. The signs and symptoms that are more commonly observed include:
- Short height or stature for his or her specific age
- Slow rate of growth, less than 2 inches per year
- The face can appear much younger than the children of the same age
- Delayed tooth development
- Mild to moderate chubbiness due to an increase in the amount of fats in the face and around the waistline
- Delayed puberty
Diagnosis and Treatment
To diagnose this condition, physicians usually measure the height, weight, and body proportion of the child to make a growth curve, along with evaluating the child’s medical history. The medical history of the family, and the height of the parents and other family members are also taken into account. Apart from these, some specific diagnostic tests and examinations are carried out for a confirmed diagnosis, which include, ‘dual energy x-ray absorptiometry scan’ (to find out bone age), X-ray of the left hand and the wrist (to determine bone age), measurement of the growth hormone and IGF-1 levels, blood tests, and X-ray and MRI of the head.
For treating this condition, physicians usually opt for the administration of human growth hormone (HGH) injections under the care of a pediatric endocrinologist. The synthetic growth hormone has to be administered in the correct dosage, which is determined by the pediatrics after evaluating the individual cases. Usually, parents are trained so that the injections can be given at home as well. The affected child may receive hormone injections daily or several times a week.
During the period when the child is given growth hormone injections, he or she has to be closely monitored, as the administration of growth hormone can cause certain side effects. Some such possible side effects include, headaches, dizziness, fluid retention, muscle and joint pain, and hearing and vision problems. However, all children may not experience these side effects. But still, they need to be treated carefully. If you observe any of the side effects during the treatment session, be sure to seek medical attention immediately to avoid any undesirable complications.
Disclaimer: This HealthHearty article is for informative purposes only, and should not be replaced for the advice of a medical professional.