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Growth Hormone Deficiency in Children

What does it mean if the doctor says that your child has growth hormone deficiency, or GHD? It means that your child’s body does not make enough growth hormone. Growth hormone is needed for growth during childhood. Not enough growth hormone can cause poor growth in children.

Most children with GHD are otherwise healthy. They may show no signs of illness or other medical conditions. If growth hormone deficiency is the cause of your child’s slow growth, there are medicines that may help.

About growth hormone

Hormones are key factors in a child’s growth. Hormones are chemical messengers. They are made in glands and sent through the blood to other parts of the body. They deliver messages that tell the body to perform certain tasks.

One hormone that is important for a child’s growth is growth hormone. It is made by the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a small organ in the body. It is the size of a pea and sits in the middle of the head at the bottom of the brain, just behind the nose.

The pituitary gland sends growth hormone into the body where it causes bone growth. Growth hormone helps the cells in a child’s bones to grow and divide. Growth in the bones, especially the spine and the leg bones, makes a child taller.

What causes GHD?

There are many possible causes of GHD. In some cases, GHD results from a birth defect and may appear in infancy. In other cases, GHD happens after birth, and may appear in later childhood. Sometimes GHD appears alone. Other times GHD happens along with other pituitary hormone deficiencies.

Diagnosing GHD

Before diagnosing your child with GHD, the doctor will check for other causes of poor growth. Your child will be given a physical exam. The doctor will review your child’s medical and family history. He or she will also look at your child’s pattern of growth and may run standard blood tests.

If your child shows no signs of other conditions, the doctor may test for GHD.

The signs of GHD

In children, some signs of GHD are:

  • Much shorter height than expected, based on biological parents’ heights
  • Growth of less than 2 inches per year between the ages of 2 and 11 years in girls or the ages of 2 and 13 years in boys
  • Leveling off and slowing of growth rate
  • Growth that is below the 3rd percentile on standardized growth charts