How doctors treat short stature in children

We watch our children carefully, lest we miss a small symptom that might foreshadow something serious. We don’t tend to worry about our children being short, because they shoot up at unexpected times. When they don’t, we just think it’s in their DNA to be short.

Sometimes shortness has no cause at all. It might be inherited, or caused by disorders such as hormone deficiency, deferred puberty, achondroplasia, or Cushing’s disease.

Other causes of short stature include malnutrition, in which poor nutrition due to lack of adequate food or a condition such as an eating disorder contributes to lack of growth. Gastrointestinal conditions like inflammatory bowel disease or celiac are responsible for lack of growth. Heart and kidney diseases, as well as immune system problems, also cause growth problems.

How do doctors evaluate short stature?

To determine the reason for short stature doctors make accurate serial measurements of height, weight, arm and leg length. These values are benchmarks for a child’s growth toward their ideal height.

If a child fails to come up to pre-set standards, then the doctor will know to seek other information. This includes a family medical history that will clarify whether short stature is inherited. X-rays and blood tests are taken, whose values within a certain range tell the doctor if growth is simply delayed, or if there’s a serious problem.

Another method of watching the child’s growth habits is by charting them. The doctor will measure the height, weight, and body mass index on a chart every time the child visits. This plotting will tell the doctor if the child’s progress is normal or if there is something slowing it down. Most doctors use the CDC growth charts.

How short is considered short?

The mean height for American men is 5 feet 9 inches and 5 feet 4 inches for women. Although height is based on genetics, the body generally stops growing by age 18. Thus, the post-puberty standard is five feet four inches for boys and four feet eleven inches for girls.

As parents carefully watch their children for any signs of anything out of the norm, then by age eight to ten the child should be seen by a doctor. By this age, the child will either conform to the standardized height charts – or will not. If parents wait any later than this age, the window of opportunity could close, leaving the child without recourse.

How short stature is treated

Short stature treatment depends on a variety of things like medical history, age, health, and any underlying causes of the condition. If the condition is caused by malnutrition, then the doctor will give the family nutritional instruction. Short stature caused by endocrine disorders is treated with thyroid hormones, growth hormones, or puberty hormones.

Growth hormone replacement therapy will give your child perhaps three to four inches in height over several years in childhood. Parents should keep in mind that when the growth plates in the bones close between ages 16 to 19, growth hormone therapy won’t make you taller. The psychological effects of short stature are more important than the physical effects.

Growth hormone is regulating a child’s growth. However, it’s only given to children who were born small and haven’t made the charted growth by two years of age. It’s also only given to children with a deficiency in this particular hormone.

Instruct children regarding the reality of growth hormone treatment. Picturing themselves as tall as Wilt Chamberlain will only lead to disappointment. They need to become accustomed to the typical three to four inches in height most children gain from such therapy.

The reason for this reality check is that children are far more susceptible to the teasing and laughter of their peers than are most adults. Stress and emotional debilitation need to be handled lest the child develops further health conditions. Try these relaxation techniques to help yourself cope with stress and make life a more balanced and healthy manner.

Final words

It’s normal for parents to keep watch over their children’s health and welfare. Check the facts with your doctor before deciding if the extra three to four inches gained with growth hormone therapy is right for your child.

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