What is Growth Hormone Deficiency?

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Growth hormone deficiency is, as it sounds, a lack of appropriate amounts of growth hormone or somatotropin. This condition is sometimes a congenital one or present at birth, or it can be acquired in childhood or adulthood due to other conditions. Most often dysfunction of the pituitary gland is involved so that not enough growth hormone is produced to meet the body’s needs. The affects of this missing element may be different depending on age of the person.

Growth hormones regulate developmental milestones like puberty.
Growth hormones regulate developmental milestones like puberty.

In infants, growth hormone deficiency might be expressed in very slow growth. Infants usually grow fairly rapidly, but they will not do so without presence of this hormone. They may experience some characteristics delays, too, like no teeth rupturing. Very small stature and failure to grow is normally noted.

If missed or if growth hormone deficiency occurs a little later in childhood, there would failure to reach physical milestones, slower growth, and older children might not experience puberty until much later. In adults, body weight could be higher, especially with fat accumulation around the middle and bone density may be lower. Some people complain of constant tiredness, and others may have heart problems associated with the lack of this hormone.

One thing not associated with this deficiency is delay in cognition. Children are expected to develop normally intellectually, unless an underlying problem causing growth hormone deficiency is present. For instance, serious hypothyroidism might cause some symptoms similar and may be indicated in low growth hormone production. It needs to be treated too so that intellectual development is on track.

When growth hormone deficiency is suspected, doctors may do a test to measure its production. In very young children, testing might stop there if the condition is thought to be congenital. However, since things like tumors on the pituitary gland can also induce this deficiency, many doctors prefer to do scans of the brain to rule out potential causes. These could include computerized axial tomography (CAT) scans or MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging).

Especially when this condition begins in infancy, early treatment is important to help normalize development and growth. Treatment could involve removing any potential causal factors like tumors, but it usually also involves giving shots of growth hormone until levels stabilize or normalize. Depending upon cause of the condition, treatment could be needed for life or may be limited to certain time period. For most children who show persistent growth hormone deficiency, treatment will last at least through childhood

People with this condition are likely to regularly see an endocrinologist, who specializes in the endocrine system of which the pituitary gland is part. The endocrinologist will follow the patient regularly and consult with any primary doctors. When caught early and treated many people with this condition do very well, though the subject of stature, which isn’t always fully improved by hormone injections, can be a painful emotion issue, especially in the teen and pre-teen years.

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen

Tricia has a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and has been a frequent wiseGEEK contributor for many years. She is especially passionate about reading and writing, although her other interests include medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion. Tricia lives in Northern California and is currently working on her first novel.

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