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Growth disorders

Dr. Alvin H. Perelman, MD is a pediatric endocrinologist at Cardon Children’s Medical Center. For more information on this topic, consult with your doctor or call 480-412-KIDS (5437).

Question: My 3-year-old son has always been small for his age, but now that he’s in preschool, the difference is very noticeable. Could there be a medical condition affecting his growth?

Answer: All children develop at different paces, and as long as you are visiting your pediatrician for regular well-child visits, your son’s growth will be monitored. That said, a child’s development is influenced by numerous things, including nutrition and illness, and if certain hormones are insufficient, growth can be affected.

Our hormones are managed by our endocrine system, a series of glands that release hormones necessary for development. Growth hormone deficiency results from a problem in the pituitary gland, which secretes growth hormones and other hormones. If the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone, a child’s growth can slow. Symptoms include comparatively short height, additional fat around the waist and in the face, a younger look than other children, and delayed tooth development. Symptoms may not be noticeable until a child is 2 to 3 years old, and if the condition is suspected, a pediatrician will usually recommend the child see a pediatric endocrinologist for testing. Typical treatments include growth hormone injections to compensate for what the pituitary gland cannot produce.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland, also part of the endocrine system, fails to produce enough thyroid hormone. This hormone is also needed for growth, and can impact heart rate, body temperature and weight. Symptoms are similar to growth hormone deficiency, but can include fatigue, constipation, sensitivity to cold, brittle hair and fingernails, puffiness in the face, and muscle aches or weakness. A blood test is used to diagnose the condition, and synthetic thyroid hormone is used to treat it.

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