Definition and Overview
Children going through puberty exhibit different changes in their bodies including in their physical growth and development. Some children might be shorter or taller for their age, but this may be caused by various factors that are considered normal. Being short or tall compared to other children of the same age is not automatically indicative of an issue that impedes normal growth and development.
However, some patients might be suffering from growth disorders, which are conditions that prevent a young child from growing normally in terms of weight, height, other physical features, and sexual maturity. Growth disorders typically affect the pituitary gland, which is responsible for producing growth hormones that stimulate the growth of the musculoskeletal system. Too much or too little of these growth hormones can cause problems for the individual in the long run.
There are many types of growth disorders, including the following:
Dwarfism. This disorder involves slow growth, which can be caused by hundreds of different medical conditions. There are two basic kinds of dwarfism: proportionate dwarfism, with the patient’s body appearing to be normally proportioned yet unusually smaller; and disproportionate dwarfism, which involves one or more parts of the body being too big or too small in relation to the average sizes of other body parts.
Acromegaly. This rare condition involves excessive production of growth hormones as the patient undergoes puberty. As a result, the patient grows abnormally larger and taller, exhibits distinct distortions of facial features, and develops serious health complications as he or she grows older.
Turner Syndrome. This condition involves the partial or complete lack of X chromosome in female patients. Girls suffering from this condition do not exhibit signs of normal sexual maturity during and after puberty, such as menstrual period, breast development, and the ability to bear children.
Gigantism. With this condition, the patient grows excessively, up to a height that is way above the average height. Like acromegaly, gigantism is characterized by an excessive production of growth hormones.
Seckel Syndrome. Also known as bird-headed dwarfism, this condition causes distinct facial features and stunted growth in patients.
Cause of Condition
Aside from having an issue or condition affecting the pituitary glands, growth disorders can also be caused by a variety of factors. Here are some of the causes of growth disorders, according to the kinds described in the section above:
- 70 percent of all patients with dwarfism are suffering from Achondroplasia, a condition that produces distorted skull growth, an abnormal increase in the curvature of the spine, and proximal limb shortening. Research shows that this condition is typically inherited by the patient from the father.
- Growth hormone deficiency (GHD), a condition that hinders the body from producing the sufficient amount of growth hormones, or somatotropin. Poor nutrition, stress, and genetic mutations can cause this condition.
- Noonan Syndrome
- Turner Syndrome
- Diastrophic dysplasia
- Osteogenesis imperfecta
Benign tumors in the pituitary gland, also known as pituitary adenoma, is the leading cause of acromegaly, accounting for more than ninety percent of cases.
Benign tumors in other parts of the body, including in the adrenal glands, lungs, and pancreas
Cause: Genetic issues, which prevent the X chromosome from fully forming in the patient’s cells
Cause: Overproduction of growth hormones
Genetic defects in chromosomes 3 and 18
Symptoms of growth disorders are usually observable through visual inspection, but signs and symptoms of each disorder depend greatly on the cause of the condition and the body parts it affects. Here are some of the key symptoms of the growth disorders described above:
- Stunted growth observed from childhood
- Skeletal dysplasia, accompanied by an unusual form of the skull or face
Disproportion in body measurements, including arm span
Enlarged ears, nose, lips, hands, and feet, caused by swollen soft tissues
- Thickening of the skin
- Swollen soft tissues in the heart and kidneys
- Swollen soft tissues in the vocal cords, which can result in slowed speech, and thick, deep voice
- Protruding brows
- Enlarged tongue and noticeable spacing in the teeth
- Excessive sweating and hyperpigmentation
- Carpal tunnel syndrome
Swollen hands and feet
- Shield chest, or a broad chest with the nipples spaced widely apart
- Low-set ears and low hairline
- Visual and hearing impairment
- Webbed neck
High waist-to-hip ratio, with the hips not noticeably bigger than the chest
Children with gigantism appear like giants when with their peers, as their bones and tissues develop at an unusually faster rate.
- Low blood count
- Low birth weight
- Intellectual disability
- Noticeably larger eyes and small chin
- Bird-like facial features
Who to See and Types of Treatment Available
There are growth disorders that can be addressed as they manifest while there are some conditions that cannot be treated or cured. Here are some of the known treatment or management methods prescribed for the growth disorders described above:
Dwarfism - Many kinds of dwarfism are not preventable or treatable, as they are caused by genetic factors that make it very difficult to determine if the child is going to have the condition. If the dwarfism is caused by factors that can be controlled, such as malnutrition or hormone deficiency, the young patient can be prescribed an improved, healthier diet or human growth hormone injections.
Acromegaly - Surgery to remove the pituitary adenoma and hormone therapy to address surplus or deficiencies are often prescribed for patients with acromegaly.
Turner Syndrome - There is no cure for this condition, but the patient can undergo procedures that will minimize the appearance and effect of the symptoms. Hormone therapy involving growth hormones and estrogen replacement can be prescribed to a patient with Turner Syndrome.
- National Institute of Health: “Dwarfism.”
- Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research: “Dwarfism.”
- National Health Services: “Acromegaly.”
- New England Journal of Medicine: “Turner’s Syndrome.”