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What is stimulation testing and why is it used for kids?

Dr. Alvin H. Perelman is medical director for pediatric endocrinology at Cardon Children’s Medical Center. For more information on this topic, talk with your doctor or call 480-412-KIDS.

Question: What is stimulation testing and why is it used for kids?

Answer: Stimulation testing is used to evaluate a child’s endocrine system, which is how the body produces hormones necessary for normal everyday functioning. Children who may be suffering from a hormonal issue, such as not producing enough growth hormone or showing signs of diabetes, will undergo stimulation testing to measure how certain glands in their endocrine system respond to various hormones or other chemical stimulations. This helps diagnose or rule out potential medical conditions.

Stimulation testing is most commonly used to assess growth hormone, to determine if a child’s pituitary gland is generating an adequate amount; glucose tolerance, to check for diabetes, insulin resistance and hypoglycemia; adrenal gland function, to see if enough cortisol is being produced; and lupron stimulation, for children experiencing early or delayed puberty.

A stimulation test is typically conducted in a children’s hospital outpatient setting, which is specially designed to help kids feel comfortable during their stay. The test requires the use of an intravenous (IV) line and the child must be fasting, meaning no food or drink for several hours before the test. Depending on the type of stimulation test, the entire process can take anywhere from one to three hours, including time to register at the hospital, the test itself, and a short recovery period that includes a snack. Sometimes the test can require a next-day return for another blood sample.

Children are welcome to use a favorite form of entertainment during the test, like a tablet, music or DVD player with headphones, or bring reading material. The physician ordering the test will offer additional advice regarding preparing for the test and any recovery instructions, though most children can resume normal activity the next day. Results are available within two to four weeks, and any diagnoses and treatment recommendations are provided at that time.

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