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What to Know About Growth Disorders

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, DO, MS on June 23, 2021

Slow growth occurs when a child is not growing at the average rate for their age. The delay may be due to an underlying health condition, such as growth hormone deficiency. Some growth problems are genetic. Others are caused by a hormonal disorder or the inadequate absorption of food.

Normal Growth Milestones

Children exhibit certain milestones that indicate normal growth:

  • Newborn to 12 months. During this period, children grow at an average height of about 10 inches. This progress is dependent on nutrition.
  • 1 to 2 years. At this age, children grow at an average height of 5 inches. Hormonal factors play an essential role in the growth and development of your child.
  • 2 to 3 years. Children of this age grow by 3.5 inches per year.

Causes of Growth Disorders

There are a number of factors that can cause slow growth in children.

Endocrine disease. The endocrine system regulates the creation and distribution of hormones throughout the body. Endocrine disease can alter the development and distribution of the thyroid hormone, which is essential for the development of your child. It can also affect the pituitary gland in the brain, which is responsible for producing growth hormone.

Constitutional growth delay. With this condition, children grow at a normal rate but are shorter than average. Your child's bones will mature at a slower pace than others their age.

Intrauterine growth restriction. Poor development of the fetus while in the mother’s womb is a common cause of slow growth.

Genetic disorders. Turner syndrome, Down syndrome, and achondroplasia are genetic disorders that can affect a child's growth.

  • Turner Syndrome is a condition that occurs when one of the X chromosomes is partially or entirely missing, causing medical or developmental problems such as delayed growth. 
  • Down Syndrome occurs when an extra 21st chromosome exists.
  • Achondroplasia is the most common genetic bone disease. This condition causes your child’s arms and legs to be short. It also causes your child’s head to be larger than usual.

Precocious puberty. This disorder is characterized by an early onset of puberty. Your child may show fast growth rates initially, only for their growth to halt at an early age.

Other factors can include:

‌Other growth disorders are idiopathic, meaning they do not have known causes.

Symptoms of Growth Disorders

While some growth symptoms may manifest at birth, others may arise during later stages of your child's development. The majority of symptoms will become apparent in children past the age of 5.  

Other symptoms of growth disorders include:

  • Slow development of physical skills such as sitting, standing, and walking
  • Delayed social and mental skills
  • Slow growth stemming from stomach disease can cause diarrhea, constipation, vomiting, and nausea

Diagnosis and Treatment of Growth Disorders

If you believe your child is impacted by slow growth, talk to their doctor. Your child's doctor will observe their health and growth over several months. They may conduct blood tests to establish the cause of slow growth. X-rays may be taken, as well. The doctor may also examine your child's pituitary gland, which creates growth hormone‌.

Although treatment of growth disorders is not urgent, earlier diagnosis can help some children to cope better. The following are treatment options that doctors may recommend for children in an earlier stage of development:

  • Growth hormone injections. These may help children with growth hormone deficiency as well as Turner syndrome. The growth hormone is considered safe and effective. The treatment can be costly.
  • Treatment of hypothyroidism. Thyroid hormone replacement may be recommended if a child has low levels of this hormone.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

American Family Physician Journal: “Evaluation of Short and Tall Stature in Children.”

American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine: “Do Inhaled Corticosteroids Inhibit Growth in Children?”

Annals of Pediatric Endocrinology & Metabolism: “Endocrine disorders and the neurologic manifestations.”

Archives of Disease in Childhood: “Precocious puberty in girls: early diagnosis of a slowly progressing variant.”

The European Journal of Clinical Nutrition: “Stunted Growth.”

International Journal of Endocrinology: “Growth abnormalities in children with Type 1 Diabetes, Juvenile Chronic Arthritis and Asthma.”

Italian Journal of Pediatrics: “Definition and prevalence of familial short stature.”

Journal of Applied Developmental Psychology: “Early Childhood social and emotional development: advancing the field of measurement.”

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: "Algorithms to Define Abnormal Genetics in Children: External Validation and Head-To-Head Comparison."

The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism: “Growth-Promoting strategies in Turner’s Syndrome.”

The Journal of Pediatricians: “Turner’s Syndrome: A growing concern.”

Metabolites: “Intrauterine Growth Restriction: New Insight from the Metabolomic Approach.”

Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases: “Achondroplasia: a comprehensive clinical review.”

PloS One Journal: “Catch –up Growth in stunted children: Definitions and Predictions.”

Rauber, A.: “Growth and Development,” Butterworths, 1990.”

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