Growth hormone deficiency (GHD) is a rare condition in which the body does not make enough growth hormone (GH). GH is made by the pituitary gland, a small organ at the base of the brain.
In children, GH is essential for normal growth, muscle and bone strength, and distribution of body fat. It also helps control glucose (sugar) and lipid (fat) levels in the body. Without enough GH, a child is likely to grow slowly and be much shorter than other children of the same age and gender.
It’s important for parents to know that there are many reasons for slow growth and below-average height in children. At times, slow growth is normal and temporary, such as right before puberty starts. A pediatric endocrinologist (children’s hormone specialist) or primary care doctor can help find out why a child is growing slowly.
Some children are born with GHD. Others develop it after birth due to a brain injury, a tumor, or radiation treatment to the head. For some children, doctors can find no cause.
Most children with growth hormone deficiency grow less than two inches (5 centimeters) each year.
Your doctor will review your child’s medical history and growth charts, and look for signs of GHD and other conditions that affect growth. Your doctor may do tests to help find the cause of slow growth. These include
Specific tests for GHD include
Children with GHD receive treatment with daily injections of synthetic (manufactured) human GH, a prescription medicine. The GH, given at home, is injected under the skin. Growth is usually monitored every 3 to 6 months by a pediatric endocrinologist, who will adjust the dose as needed.
The best results occur when GHD is diagnosed and treated early. In some children, GH can lead to four inches (10 centimeters) of growth during the first year of treatment. Others grow less, but usually faster than without treatment. Some children need treatment until adolescence; others need it into adulthood.
Mild to moderate side effects are uncommon. They include
Rare but serious side effects include
For most children, the benefits of taking GH outweigh the risks.
You can help your child get the best care for GHD by taking these steps: