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Growth hormone deficiency, as the name implies, is the absence or deficiency of growth hormone produced by the pituitary gland to stimulate the body to grow. Growth hormone deficiency may occur during infancy or later in childhood. Without treatment, most children with growth hormone deficiency will not reach a height of 5 feet.
Growth hormones are produced by the pituitary gland, which is attached to the hypothalamus (a part of the brain that affects the pituitary gland) located at the base of the brain. Sometimes referred to as the master gland of the endocrine system, the pituitary gland controls the functions of the other endocrine glands through the secretion of certain hormones, and also produces human growth hormone. When the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus are malformed or damaged, growth hormone deficiency may result. Damage to the pituitary gland or hypothalamus may occur as a result of abnormal formation of these organs before a child is born (congenital, or present at birth), or as a result of damage that occurred during or after birth (acquired).
Researchers have found that growth hormone deficiency may also be part of a genetic syndrome. However, in some cases, the cause of growth hormone deficiency is unknown (idiopathic).
The primary symptom of growth hormone deficiency is a noticeable slow growth (less than two inches per year), although the body has normal proportions. The child with growth hormone deficiency may also have:
It is important to note that growth hormone deficiency does not affect the child's intelligence, and each child experiences symptoms differently. The symptoms of growth hormone deficiency may resemble other problems or medical conditions. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
Before a growth hormone deficiency diagnosis can be made, your child's physician may have to rule out other disorders first, including short stature (inherited family shortness) and thyroid hormone deficiency. In addition to a complete medical history and physical examination, diagnostic procedures for growth hormone deficiency may include the following:
Specific treatment for growth hormone deficiency will be determined by your child's physician based on:
Once growth hormone deficiency has been diagnosed, treatment for the disorder involves regular injections of human growth hormone (some children receive daily injections, while others receive injections several times a week). Treatment usually lasts several years, although results are often seen as soon as three to four months after the injections are started. The earlier the treatment for growth hormone deficiency is started, the better chance the child will have of attaining normal or near-normal adult height. However, not all children respond well to growth hormone treatment.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that therapy with growth hormone is medically and ethically acceptable for children:
While there are many potential side effects, researchers generally agree that treatment with human growth hormone is safe and effective. Until the 1980s, the only source of human growth hormone was from the pituitary glands of deceased people, where an increased chance of transmission of human diseases from human growth hormone existed. In 1985, a biosynthetic growth hormone was approved by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) eliminating the risk of disease transmission and creating an unlimited supply of growth hormone. Consult your child's physician for more information.
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