Is Growth Hormone Deficiency?
A growth hormone deficiency (GHD) occurs when the pituitary gland
doesn’t produce enough growth hormone. It more commonly affects children than
The pituitary gland is a small gland about the size of a pea. It’s
located at the base of the skull and secretes eight hormones. Some of these
hormones control thyroid activity and body temperature.
GHD occurs in roughly 1
in 7,000 births. The condition is also a symptom of several genetic
diseases, including Turner syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome.
You may grow concerned if your child is not meeting height and
weight growth standards. Growth hormone deficiency is treatable. Children who
are diagnosed early often recover very well. If left untreated, the condition
can result in shorter-than-average height and delayed puberty.
Your body still needs growth hormone after you’ve finished
puberty. Once you’re in adulthood, the growth hormone maintains your body
structure and metabolism. Adults can also develop GHD, but it isn’t as common.
What Causes Growth Hormone Deficiency?
Children with cleft lips or cleft palates often have poorly
developed pituitary glands, so are more likely to have GHD.
GHD that isn’t present at birth may be caused by a tumor in the
brain. These tumors are normally located at the site of the pituitary gland or
the nearby hypothalamus region of the brain.
In children and adults, serious head injuries, infections, and radiation
treatments can also cause GHD. This is called acquired growth hormone
of Growth Hormone Deficiency
Children with GHD are shorter than their peers and have younger,
rounder faces. They may also be chubby or have “baby fat” around the abdomen, even
though their body proportions are normal.
If GHD develops later in a child’s life, such as from a brain
injury or tumor, its main symptom is delayed puberty. In some instances, sexual
development is halted.
Many teens with GHD experience low self-esteem due to developmental
delays such as short stature or a slow rate of maturing. For example, young
women may not develop breasts and young men’s voices may not change at the same
rate as their peers.
Reduced bone strength is another symptom of AGHD. This may
lead to more frequent fractures, especially in older adults. People with low
growth hormone levels may feel tired and lack stamina. They may experience
sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures.
A variety of
psychological symptoms can occur, including:
- lack of concentration
- poor memory
- bouts of anxiety or emotional distress
Adults with AGHD typically have high levels of fat in the
blood and high cholesterol. This isn’t due to poor diet, but rather to changes
in the body’s metabolism caused by low levels of growth hormone. Adults with
AGHD are at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Is Growth Hormone Deficiency Diagnosed?
Your child’s doctor will look for signs of GHD if your child is
not meeting their height and weight milestones. They’ll ask you about your
growth rate as you approached puberty, as well as your other children’s growth
rates. If they suspect GHD, a number of tests can confirm the diagnosis.
A blood test can measure growth hormone in the body. However,
your levels of growth hormone fluctuate widely throughout the day and night
(called “diurnal variation”). A blood test with a lower-than-normal result is
not enough evidence to make a diagnosis.
Growth plates are the developing tissue at each end of your arm
and leg bones. Growth plates fuse together when you’ve finished developing. X-rays
of your child’s hand can indicate their level of bone growth.
Kidney and thyroid function tests can determine how the body is
producing and using hormones.
If your doctor suspects a tumor or other damage to the pituitary
gland, an MRI imaging scan can provide a detailed look inside the brain. Growth
hormone levels will often be screened in adults who have a history of pituitary
disorders, have a brain injury, or need brain surgery.
Testing can determine if the pituitary condition was present at
birth or brought on by an injury or tumor.
Is Growth Hormone Deficiency Treated?
Since the mid-1980s, synthetic growth hormones have been used with
great success to treat children and adults. Before synthetic growth hormones,
natural growth hormones from cadavers were used for treatment.
Growth hormone is given by injection, typically into the body’s fatty
tissues, such as the back of the arms, thighs, or buttocks. It’s most effective
as a daily treatment.
Side effects are
generally minor, but may include:
- redness at the injection site
- hip pain
- curving of the spine (scoliosis)
In rare cases, long-term growth hormone injections may contribute
to the development of diabetes, especially in people with a family history of
Children with congenital GHD are often treated with growth hormone
until they reach puberty. Often, children who have too little growth hormone in
their youth will naturally begin to produce enough as they enter adulthood. However,
some remain in treatment for their entire lives. Your doctor can determine if
you need ongoing injections by monitoring hormone levels in your blood.
What Is the Long-Term Outlook for GHD?
Make an appointment with your doctor if you suspect that you
or your child is deficient in growth hormones. Many people respond very well to
treatment. The sooner you start treatment, the better your results will be.