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Pediatric Short Stature

What causes growth problems?

The cause of a growth problem depends on the type of growth disorder in question. Some growth problems are genetic, while others may be caused by hormonal disorders or poor absorption of food. Causes for growth problems usually fall into the following categories:

  • Familial short stature — Familial short stature is a tendency to follow the family's inherited short stature (shortness).
  • Constitutional growth delay with delayed adolescence or delayed maturation — A child who tends to be shorter than average and who enters puberty later than average, but is growing at a normal rate. Most of these children tend to eventually grow to approximately the same height as their parents.
  • Illnesses that affect the whole body (also called systemic diseases)
  • Malnutrition — constant malnutrition prevents children from attaining their full growth potential; a well-balanced diet generally prevents or corrects this disorder. Malnutrition is the most common cause of growth failure around the world.
  • Endocrine (hormone) diseases
    • Lack of thyroid hormones — adequate production of the thyroid hormone is necessary for normal bone growth
    • Cushing's syndrome — Cushing's syndrome can be caused by myriad abnormalities that are the result of hypersecretion of corticosteroids by the adrenal gland
    • Growth hormone deficiency — There is a problem with the pituitary gland (small gland at the base of the brain) that secretes several hormones, including growth hormone
  • Congenital (present at birth) problems in the tissues where growth occurs
    • Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR) — Slow growth within the uterus occurs during a pregnancy. The baby is born smaller in weight and length than normal, in proportion to his/her short stature.
    • Chromosome abnormalities — Having too many or few chromosomes can result in health problems, including problems with growth. One chromosome abnormality that results from too few chromosomes is the following:
      • Turner syndrome — A genetic disorder seen in people with external female genitalia that causes them to be shorter than others and to not mature sexually as they grow into adulthood. The severity of these problems varies among affected individuals. Other health problems may also be present involving the heart or renal system (kidneys, etc.) Many conditions can be managed or corrected by medical treatment. Turner syndrome occurs in one in 2,500 females born. The features of Turner syndrome result from having a missing X chromosome in each of the body's cells.
    • Skeletal abnormalities (bone diseases or skeletal dysplasias) — There are more than 50 bone diseases that affect height and growth, many of which are genetic. The most common is achondroplasia, a type of dwarfism in which the child's arms and legs are short in proportion to his/her body length. Further, the head is often large and the trunk is normal size.
  • Tall stature
    • Unusual tallness in girls — Some girls may grow unusually tall for their age if their parents are tall
    • Precocious puberty — This growth disorder is characterized by an early onset of adolescence in which a child is tall for his/her age initially but due to rapid bone maturity, growth stops at an early age and they may be short as adults
    • Genetic conditions — There are a few genetic conditions which result in tall stature where other health problems are also present
  • Idiopathic — There is no known cause for the growth problem


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Frequently Asked Questions

Growth Problems

What are the symptoms of growth problems?

How is a growth problem diagnosed?

Growth Hormone Deficiency

What is growth hormone deficiency?

What causes growth hormone deficiency?

What are the symptoms of growth hormone deficiency?

How is growth hormone deficiency diagnosed?


Treatment for growth problems

Treatment of growth hormone deficiency

How safe is growth hormone treatment?

Providers Who Treat Short Stature

    Departments that Treat Short Stature

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    Endocrinology and Diabetes

    The Children's National Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes is a nationally recognized leader in the industry and has an experienced multidisciplinary team comprising endocrinologists, nutritionists, social workers, psychologists, and other specialists.