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Closeup of four smiling children lying on their backs with heads touching and holding hands

Clarifying the facts about growth disorders.

Most children who experience delays in growth are healthy. But for a small number of children, their short stature is caused by a medical condition. Here, we’ll clarify the facts about growth disorders, such as genetic disorders that affect growth and growth hormone deficiency, a treatable endocrine disorder. 

Growth disorders.

  • Childhood growth hormone deficiency (GHD) – A condition where the body doesn’t make enough growth hormone, which is produced by the pituitary gland. Children whose bodies produce low amounts of growth hormone can experience delays in growth.
  • Adult growth hormone deficiency (AGHD) – Adults with GHD don’t produce enough growth hormone. This condition can result in decreased muscle mass, thinning bones, and other issues.
  • Noonan syndrome – A rare genetic disorder that affects about 1 in 1,000-2,500 children, both boys and girls. Children with Noonan syndrome often experience short stature as well as heart problems, delays in puberty, and other health conditions. 
  • Turner syndrome – A rare genetic disorder that affects about 1 in 2,500-3,000 girls. A girl with Turner syndrome may also have short stature, ovarian failure, heart defects, and other health problems.
  • Prader-Willi syndrome (PWS) – Also a rare genetic disorder, PWS affects about 1 in 10,000-30,000 boys and girls. Children with PWS may experience short stature along with increased appetite, obesity, and other health conditions.
  • SHOX deficiency – A deficiency due to abnormalities in the short stature homeobox-containing (SHOX) gene that can cause short stature in children.
one in 3,480
one in 3,480

1 in 3,480 children in the United States is affected by growth hormone deficiency.

Variations of normal growth.

  • Idiopathic short stature (ISS) – A not-so-simple term used when there is no identifiable cause for a child’s short stature. When a child is very short compared to other children of the same age and other causes of short stature are ruled out, their doctor may diagnose ISS, which includes short children labeled with constitutional delay of growth and puberty (CDGP) and familial short stature (FSS). Children with ISS often remain short into adulthood.
  • Constitutional delay of growth and puberty (CDGP) – A normal type of growth where a healthy child grows and develops a bit later than other children. Typically, children with CDGP will reach an adult height that is average for their family. 
  • Familial short stature (FSS) – Another name for shortness that runs in the family. Familial short stature means that a child is short because their birth parents are short.
  • Small for gestational age (SGA) – When a baby’s birth weight and/or length falls below the 2.3rd percentile. It’s not always known why a child is born SGA, but 2 possible causes are genetic defects or the mother’s health.

Chronic disease

  • Chronic kidney disease (CKD) – Short stature is often seen in children with CKD, a disease that affects kidney function. This may be due to nutritional, hormonal, and/or metabolic defects.

A child who’s growing more slowly than others can be healthy.

SEE ANSWER

But sometimes, slow growth is caused by an underlying medical condition. Be sure to talk to your child’s doctor if you have any concerns about their growth.

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When your child is no longer a child.

For older children and their parents, talking about growth is sometimes more challenging. Teens and tweens who are shorter than their friends may feel very much alone—but the truth is, they’re not. Giving them tips or partnering up to ask the doctor about possible medical reasons for slow growth is a way to help ensure they’re heading toward adulthood as healthy as they can be.

Teenager sitting with arms crossed, holding a pillow with rear view of adult looking on
Teenager sitting with arms crossed, holding a pillow with rear view of adult looking on
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Illustration of a paper airplane flying

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Is it time to talk to the doctor?

Learn why, when, and how to talk to your child’s doctor about growth.

Words to grow on.

Our Glossary defines growth-related terms you may not be familiar with.

How common are growth disorders?

Growth disorders are rare. In fact, most children who experience delays in growth are healthy. If you’re concerned about your child’s growth, ask their doctor to explain their measurements and growth rate.

Are growth disorders treatable?

Certain growth disorders are treatable. If it turns out that your child is diagnosed with a growth disorder, their doctor will be able to discuss treatment options with you.