Growth Hormone Gives Kids a Boost That Lasts
Sept. 27, 2000 -- Children who are unusually short because of
chronic medical conditions such as kidney disease can gain several inches in
height by taking growth hormone before they hit puberty. These inches stay with
the child as they pass through their teens and into adulthood, according to a
Most of these children can increase their final adult height by
an average of nearly two inches, which can mean the difference, "between
being extraordinarily short" or "being up in the normal range, although
in the shorter end of normal," says Jay Cohen, MD.
Cohen, who is clinical associate professor of endocrinology at
the University of Tennessee in Memphis, says being short may seem like a
"small" issue to some people, but it poses many practical limitations
that may be avoidable by adding just a few inches with growth hormone
treatments during a child's peak growth period.
"If you're an adult and you're 4-foot-7, how do you find a
car where you can reach the pedals?" says Cohen, who also has a private
practice. "But if you're 5-foot-1, you can drive a car and you don't have
to have specially built brake pedals, gas pedals, you can see [over the
dashboard], etc. There is also discrimination in the workplace if you are
profoundly short," he adds.
Growth hormone was approved in the U.S. in 1985 for use in
children whose bodies don't produce enough natural growth hormone because of a
deficiency or medical problems that interfere with growth, such as kidney
failure. Actor Gary Coleman, best known for his role as Arnold on the sitcom
Diff'rent Strokes is one example of someone whose growth was severely
stunted by childhood kidney disease.
Today, growth hormone is widely used, but doctors are still
compiling data on how significantly the hormone ultimately improves the child's
height when they become an adult. Some have suggested the hormone may give an
initial boost in growth around the time of puberty that is not sustained
through the teenage years, up to the time a person's height is finally
But a new study in the Sept. 28 issue of The New England
Journal of Medicine shows that kids with kidney disease who took the
hormone shots starting from around the age of 10 until their mid teens had
sustained increases in their growth until they reach their final adult height
at age 18 for boys and age 16 for girls. Compared with a similar group of
children with kidney disease who did not take the hormone shots, those who did
gained enough inches to put them in the normal or near-normal range for
That meant that boys who took the hormone were an average of 5
feet 4 inches tall as adults and girls were an average of 5 feet 1 inch tall.
Among those who did not take the hormone shots, boys were an average of 5 feet
3 inches tall as adults and girls were an average of 4 feet 9 inches tall.
Children who took the hormone were slightly shorter at the start of the study
than children who did not take it.
The German study, led by Dieter Haffner, MD, of University
Children's Hospital in Heidelberg, also shows that growth hormone does not
worsen the child's kidney disease or interfere in any way with treatment of the
disease, says Cohen. There also were no side effects of the treatment reported.
That is likely to be important news to parents and doctors weighing the
benefits of giving the growth hormone treatments to children with kidney