It may seem like kids are growing up faster these days. But central precocious puberty (CPP) is a rare condition. It happens when the body matures sooner -- perhaps years earlier -- than expected.
Puberty usually starts around age 7 1/2 in girls and around age 9 in boys. For some children, such as those who are African-American or Hispanic, normal puberty may happen as early as age 6 in girls and age 8 in boys. But with CPP, signs of puberty, such as budding breasts and body hair, show up much sooner than parents might anticipate. It's more common for girls.
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When it does happen in boys, there’s a good chance there’s an underlying, potentially serious medical cause that needs to be treated. This is usually not the case for girls.
Puberty is a big change, even when it happens on schedule. Early puberty can also cause problems with bone growth. Talk with your child's doctor about what's happening. If it's too soon, you can slow or even reverse the changes in their body.
The brain releases a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone. Your doctor may call it GnRH. It tells the pituitary gland to release hormones called gonadotropins. They tell the sex organs to make other hormones that start sexual development.
In central precocious puberty, the brain releases GnRH at a younger-than-normal age and starts the process. Most of the time, doctors can't pinpoint an exact cause for girls, but researchers have linked childhood obesity to early periods.
Boys are more likely to have a specific trigger.
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Other causes include:
A family history of CPP
A rare gene problem
A noncancerous tumor in the brain or pituitary gland
A brain injury
An infection in the brain, like meningitis
Radiation or chemotherapy for cancer treatment
The signs of CPP are the changes you'd expect to see in a maturing preteen or teen.
Hair in underarms and on private parts, and, for boys, on the face
Adult body odor
Sexual development like breast buds, or testicle growth
Sometimes, kids can have hair appear in their private area and under the arm, but it doesn’t mean they are in true puberty.