What is Nanism?

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  • Written By: Allison Boelcke
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 07 January 2020
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Nanism is more commonly referred to as dwarfism and is a condition in which a person experiences abnormal growth and has a shorter stature than the average person. It can be due to genetics, but can also occur in people who have parents of average height. People with the condition are typically not mentally disabled and can learn to live and function comfortably.

The most common symptom of nanism is an adult who is done growing and never reaches the height comparable to other adults. A person is usually considered to be of short stature if he or she is under 4 feet 10 inches (147 cm) tall. His or her limbs may be shorter and more rigid in proportion to the rest of the body.

Nanism can be the result of an inherited gene that makes a person more likely to never reach an average height range. It can also occur if a gene in a sperm cell or egg becomes altered before a embryo is formed. The gene alteration randomly occurs and has no reason for changing; therefore, it cannot be prevented. The condition can also be a result of problems that delay development after a child is born, such as kidney disease, pituitary gland disorders, or any other disorders that prevent a child’s body from taking in nutrients from food that are essential for growth.


A short stature can contribute to a variety of possible health effects; however, most of the effects are not fatal. Children with nanism may be more likely to have sleep apnea, in which their breathing temporarily halts while they are asleep, due to abnormally developed or constricted airways. They may also have more difficulty learning to sit up on their own or walk because their spines or joints are not as flexible.

Although nanism cannot be cured, it can be treated surgically if it causes other health complications or discomfort. Many structural deficiencies in the joints can be treated by adding prosthetics to the areas to help alleviate pain and make movement easier. Maintaining a healthy weight can aid in reducing stress on joints that are already stiff, so a healthy diet can help make those with nanism more comfortable. Since the condition can make physical activity difficult or even dangerous, it is typically recommended to only be performed under a doctor’s supervision.

A person’s lifespan is not usually shortened due to having the condition. Although his or her size is smaller than average, it does not typically have a negative affect on mental ability. People with the condition can also conceive children who end up growing up to be average sized.



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