Dwarfism is a type of growth hormone deficiency that happens in some children. It occurs when the pituitary gland responsible for body and muscle growth doesn’t make enough of the growth hormone. This can lead to several different deficiencies including pituitary dwarfism, acquired growth hormone deficiency, isolated growth hormone deficiency, pan hypopituitarism, and congenital growth hormone deficiency.
Causes of Dwarfism
In most cases, doctors aren’t able to tell you why your child had a growth hormone deficiency. It can be present at birth where it will be referred to as congenital or it can develop from another medical condition or injury. Severe brain injury is a common cause for growth hormone deficiency that did not occur at birth. It is very common for dwarfism to be passed down to children though it doesn’t always occur. In adults, the common causes for growth hormone deficiencies like dwarfism are a tumor in the pituitary gland or hypothalamus gland, brain radiation treatments for cancer, or a severe head injury.
Symptoms of Dwarfism
There are a variety of signs and symptoms that can alert parents to a child with a growth hormone deficiency like dwarfism. If your child is growing less than 2 inches a year, that is the first indication. You may not notice the slow growth until your child is between 2 and 3 years old. You will notice your child is much shorter or smaller than other children of the same age and gender. Your child will have normal body proportions in many cases and normal intelligence but be smaller or shorter. They can have a younger facial appearance, however, as well as a chubby build. Older children might not show many signs of a growth hormone deficiency.
The first step to diagnosing dwarfism is with a physical examination which includes measuring height, weight and body proportions. This will determine if the child is growing at an average weight as compared to other children of the same age and gender. The bone age is determined with a hand x-ray. A blood test can also check for a hormone deficiency. Other tests include an MRI, stimulation test and other tests to measure the hormone levels.
The first step to treating a growth hormone deficiency like dwarfism is with growth hormone injections given at home, as often as once a day. This isn’t effective for everyone with dwarfism. There are a variety of side effects to these injections including headaches, fluid retention, muscle and joint aching, and slippage of the hip bones. This may only work with early treatment; some children are too old or grown for the treatment to work. Other children may get medications that can help promote normal hormone growth levels.