9 Surprising Facts About Growth Hormone Deficiency

Medically Reviewed By William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Written By Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN on August 20, 2020
  • Happy boy
    Growth Hormone Deficiency: A Rare Condition
    Growth hormone deficiency is sometimes called dwarfism or pituitary dwarfism. The pituitary is a gland located at the base of the brain; it makes growth hormone, which stimulates physical growth. People who have lower-than-normal levels of growth hormone do not grow at the expected rate and are typically much shorter than their peers. Growth hormone deficiency is a rare disorder.

    Learn more about growth hormone deficiency causes and treatments, as well as the risks of untreated growth hormone deficiency.
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    1. Growth hormone deficiency may be present at birth.
    Some children with growth hormone deficiency are shorter than normal at birth. Other infants appear typical at birth, but their pituitary glands produce very low levels of growth hormone. They may grow more slowly than other children and by early to mid-childhood, they are noticeably shorter than similarly aged children. Their faces may look younger as well.

    Some children who are born with cleft lip or cleft palate also have growth hormone deficiency.
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    2. A brain injury can cause growth hormone deficiency.
    Because the pituitary gland produces growth hormone, damage to the part of the brain that contains the pituitary gland can cause growth hormone deficiency. A traumatic brain injury (TBI), such as one suffered in a car accident or a severe fall, can cause growth hormone deficiency. A range of 2 to 30% of those who experience TBI may develop growth hormone deficiency within one month, according to a 2019 study published in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences.

    Radiation treatment to the head, a common treatment for brain tumors, can also cause growth hormone deficiency.
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    3. Slower-than-typical growth is the primary symptom of growth hormone deficiency.
    Most infants grow about 10 inches in the first year of life. Between ages 1 and 2, children grow an average of 5 inches, and they gain another 3 ½ inches or so between ages 2 and 3. After that, most children average about 2 inches of growth per year until puberty.

    Children whose growth is significantly and consistently slower than average may have growth hormone deficiency. However, there are many possible reasons for slow growth. If you have concerns about your child’s height or rate or growth, talk to your child’s healthcare provider.
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    4. Doctors use hand X-rays to diagnose growth hormone deficiency.
    Hand X-rays can determine bone age. Because X-rays are quick, painless and non-invasive, doctors use them to assess for possible growth issues. A discrepancy between a child’s bone age and chronological age may indicate a growth problem.

    Additional testing is needed to definitively diagnose growth hormone deficiency. Doctors may order blood tests to check for growth factors and assess an individual’s response to growth hormone stimulation. A person who doesn’t produce much growth hormone after being given medication to stimulate growth hormone release likely has growth hormone deficiency.
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    5. Adults can develop growth hormone deficiency.
    Although many people think of growth hormone deficiency as a problem that affects children, adults can also develop growth hormone deficiency, even after they’ve reached their full adult height. Symptoms of growth hormone deficiency in adults include loss of muscle mass and strength, decreased stamina, increased fat, impaired concentration and thinking, and greater sensitivity to heat and cold.

    Brain injuries, radiation to the head, and some autoimmune diseases can cause adult-onset growth hormone deficiency.
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    6. Untreated growth hormone deficiency may delay puberty and increase risk of cardiovascular disease.
    Children with untreated growth hormone deficiency typically do not mature as quickly as their peers. Children and adults with untreated growth hormone deficiency may experience increased levels of “bad” cholesterol, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart attacks and stroke. Untreated growth hormone deficiency can also cause decreased bone mineral density and osteoporosis, which increases the risk of broken bones.
  • Young Hispanic boy getting vaccination or flu shot from pediatrician or nurse
    7. Treatment for growth hormone deficiency usually lasts several years.
    Growth hormone shots (injections) can effectively treat growth hormone deficiency. These shots are typically administered daily over a period of several years. Growth may be noticeable after 3 to 4 months of treatment.

    Individuals with growth hormone deficiency need to work closely with healthcare providers. Regular appointments are necessary to assess the response to treatment and adjust the treatment plan, if necessary.
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    8. Growth hormone deficiency can affect mood and self-concept.
    It’s not easy to be the shortest kid in your class. Significant delays in growth and maturity can cause social challenges, as well as depression, anxiety and poor self-esteem. Treatment with growth hormone may alleviate some of those challenges, but a child can continue to struggle with the psychological effects of growth hormone deficiency even after treatment has triggered growth. Emotional support and professional counseling may be helpful.
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    9. Early treatment leads to best outcomes.
    The sooner an individual begins treatment for growth hormone deficiency, the more likely it is he or she will grow to normal or near-normal adult height. Some children grow as many as 4 inches within the first year of treatment; 1 to 2 inches of growth within 6 months of beginning treatment is typical.

    Beginning treatment as soon as possible also minimizes the risk of osteoporosis (weak bones) and cardiovascular complications. Prompt treatment may also prevent or decrease anxiety and depression related to the social and psychological challenges of being smaller than typical.
9 Surprising Facts About Growth Hormone Deficiency

About The Author

Jennifer L.W. Fink, RN, BSN is a Registered Nurse-turned-writer. She’s also the creator of BuildingBoys.net and co-creator/co-host of the podcast On Boys: Real Talk about Parenting, Teaching & Reaching Tomorrow’s Men. Most recently, she is the author ofThe First-Time Mom's Guide to Raising Boys: Practical Advice for Your Son's Formative Years.
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  8. Adult Growth Hormone Deficiency. Cedars Sinai. https://www.cedars-sinai.edu/Patients/Health-Conditions/Adult-Growth-Hormone-Deficiency.aspx
  9. Growth Hormone Deficiency. Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. https://www.chop.edu/conditions-diseases/growth-hormone-deficiency
  10. Kgosidialwa O, Hakami O, Zia-Ul-Hussnain H, & Agha, A. Growth Hormone Deficiency Following Traumatic Brain Injury. Int J Mol Sci. 2019;20(13):3323. doi: 10.3390/ijms20133323. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6651180/

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 13
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