Growth disorders and short stature can mean that your child is significantly shorter than other children of his or her gender and age. Short stature is a term used to describe children who are in the third percentile or less on the pediatric growth chart (a tool used by doctors to see how your child's growth compares to the average pediatric growth pattern).
Most of the time, children with short stature not caused by a medical condition are healthy and will eventually grow at a normal rate. The cause of their short stature may be unknown, or they may have a family history of below average height or a family history of delayed puberty.
Some medical conditions that may cause short stature include:
- Chronic conditions that affect major organs or body systems such as:
- Genetic conditions such as:
- Achondroplasia (a condition that causes abnormal growth of cartilage resulting in dwarfism)
- Down syndrome
- Noonan syndrome (a condition that prevents normal growth in some parts of the body)
- Russell-Silver syndrome (a condition that causes low birth weight and failure to thrive)
- Turner syndrome (a chromosomal condition that affects only females)
- Endocrine disorders such as:
- Medicines taken for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Poor nutrition
- Prematurity or low birth weight
Diagnosis of Growth Disorders & Short Stature
Doctors at Riley at IU Health use the following exams and tests to diagnose short stature:
- Physical exam. Your child's weight and height will be measured and marked on a pediatric growth chart. If your child is in the third percentile or less on the growth chart, he or she may be diagnosed with short stature.
- Bone age test. Your child’s doctor may perform a bone age test, which is an X-ray of the left hand and wrist. This test can show how much the bones of a child have matured and if there will be an impact on adult height.
- Blood tests. Your child’s doctor may perform blood tests to look for conditions that may slow growth.
Healthy children with short stature not caused by a medical condition do not require treatment. Your child's primary care doctor will continue to monitor your child's growth at regular checkups.
If your child's growth disorder or short stature is caused by an underlying medical condition, treatment of that condition may improve growth:
- Anemia. Untreated anemia can stunt a child's growth. Proper treatment for this condition can improve growth.
- Asthma. Medicines used to treat asthma, such as inhaled steroids, may affect growth. Your child's doctor can help you determine which asthma treatments work best for your child.
- Bone disease. Bone disease caused by Vitamin D deficiency or rickets can lead to short stature. Treatment with Vitamin D and calcium supplements may improve both conditions.
- Celiac disease. Celiac disease may prevent the absorption of nutrients, which can stunt growth and weaken bones. A gluten-free diet can alleviate the symptoms of celiac disease and help treat growth issues related to the condition.
- Heart disease. In some children with heart disease, the heart pumps inefficiently and more rapidly, raising the metabolism. A faster metabolism requires more calories to maintain growth and a healthy weight, but sometimes a child with heart disease lacks a healthy appetite. This can lead to short stature. These children may need to receive nutrition through a gastrointestinal tube, or they may need to drink high-calorie milk or formula or eat small amounts of high-calorie food to improve growth.
- Inflammatory bowel disease. Children with inflammatory bowel disease may not receive sufficient nutrients from food or may not be able to use the nutrients because of chronic inflammation, which can lead to short stature. Proper treatment of the condition should improve its symptoms and your child's growth.
- Kidney disease. Growth failure is a common complication of chronic kidney disease. Children with short stature caused by chronic kidney disease may require growth hormone therapy to stimulate growth. Changes to your child's diet may also be recommended.
- Down syndrome. Children with Down syndrome are more prone to conditions that impact growth such as hypothyroidism and celiac disease. Treatment of those conditions should help with short stature.
- Noonan syndrome. Growth hormone may be used to treat short stature caused by this condition.
- Russell-Silver syndrome. Growth hormone may be used to treat short stature caused by this condition. A diet with enough calories to promote growth may also help.
- Turner syndrome. Growth hormone therapy treats short stature related to this condition.
- Hypopituitarism. Hypopituitarism can cause growth hormone deficiency which can lead to short stature. This condition is treated with growth hormone therapy.
- Hypothyroidism. Short stature caused by hypothyroidism is treated with levothyroxine, a synthetic thyroid hormone.
- Delayed puberty. Growth increases during puberty. This condition may resolve by itself or may require hormone treatment.
- Type 1 diabetes and Type 2 diabetes. Short stature does not occur frequently with these conditions. Good diabetic control can help prevent growth issues.
Short stature caused by poor nutrition may be resolved with an improved diet. When short stature is caused by medicines, your child's doctor will work with you to find a better treatment that will not hurt your child's growth.
Key Points to Remember
Key Points to Remember
- Short stature describes children who are in the third percentile or less on the pediatric growth chart.
- Most of the time, there is no medical cause for short stature.
- When there is a medical cause for a growth disorder or short stature, it may be due to chronic health conditions, genetic conditions or hormone deficiencies.
- When short stature or a growth disorder has a medical cause, treatment varies based on the underlying condition.
Support Services & Resources
Support Services & Resources
Visit the link below to learn more about growth disorders and short stature and discover support groups and resources.
Riley at IU Health offers a broad range of supportive services to make life better for families who choose us for their children's care.
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