About pediatric growth hormone deficiency (pGHD)

pGHD is a growth disorder that a child can be born with, or it can develop over time.1 Growth hormones help the body develop into adulthood. For example, sex hormones drive growth during puberty.2 The growth hormone somatropin helps children grow from birth through puberty.

About 18,000-22,000 children in the US are treated for GHD [6,7]

What causes pGHD?

The body’s pituitary gland produces the growth hormone somatropin. When it doesn’t produce enough for normal development, the child can have growth hormone deficiency (GHD).3,4 It affects girls and boys, and about 18,000 to 22,000 children in the US have it.5-7

  • “Total GHD” is when no growth hormone is produced in children3
  • “Partial GHD” is when some is produced in children, but not enough for normal growth.3

Measuring your child’s growth8

Your doctor will measure your child’s height to check for proper development. You can measure your child as a first step before visiting your doctor. You’ll need a flat wall in an area without carpet, a ruler, a pencil, and a measuring tape.

Once you and your child are ready:
1. Make sure your child isn’t wearing any shoes, bulky clothes, or hair clips or ties.
2. Have your child stand against the wall with feet together and heels touching the wall.
3. Make sure your child’s legs are straight, arms are at his/her sides, shoulders are level, and he/she is looking straight ahead.
4. Place the ruler on the top of your child’s head. Make sure the ruler is level with the ground.
5. Mark the wall where the ruler touches it and measure the height of the mark from the floor.
Measuring your child's height

Checking the growth chart

When you have your child’s measurement, compare it to the appropriate growth chart from the World Health Organization below. The colored lines show the “percentile” of children at that height or below. So, the green line (50th) on the chart you download is the average height—50% of children at that height or below. Most children fall between the yellow lines (15th and 85th percentiles).

Birth – 2 years of age
2 – 5 years of age
5 years of age and older

Types of pGHD

Congenital GHD

“Congenital GHD” means that the child was born with this condition. From birth, the child’s body doesn’t produce enough (or any) growth hormone. This may be the result of something that happened while the child was in the womb, such as an injury or other complication. Congenital GHD may not be noticeable for months.8

Acquired GHD

Damage to the pituitary gland or other areas of the body involved with growth after birth can result in “acquired GHD.” It can also be caused by serious illness, exposure to radiation therapy or a head injury at any time. Often, a tumor affecting the hypothalamus or pituitary gland will cause acquired GHD. But even if the tumor is removed, it may not correct the degree of GHD.3

Other impacts on growth

There are other factors besides GHD that may impact a child’s growth. Poor nutrition, more than anything, may prevent a child from growing at a normal rate. A balanced diet is essential to the healthy development of growing children. However, even if a child eats a balanced diet, growth problems can still occur if the food is not absorbed and metabolized properly.3,8

Diagnosing growth hormone deficiency in children

Diagnosing pGHD

A doctor will look at a child’s current as well as his/her birth height and weight. If there are no other symptoms, the doctor may monitor the child’s growth. If the doctor suspects there may be a problem, a referral to a specialist may be made.

When it comes to pGHD, a diagnosis is made using several approaches, including4:

  • An assessment of the child’s growth history
  • Lab tests to rule out other causes of short height
  • A blood test that measures growth hormone levels
  • A growth hormone stimulation test

Know when to see a doctor

If you think that your child’s growth is below normal, it’s important to see your doctor. Signs of growth deficiency in your child to watch for include4:

  • Slow growth
  • Short height
  • Chubbiness
  • Young-looking face
  • Delayed or absent puberty
Seeing your doctor about a possible growth disorder

Questions to ask your doctor:

  1. Should I be worried about my child’s height?
  2. What tests show if there’s a growth deficiency?
  3. What can we do about a possible growth deficiency?
  4. What treatments are available?
  5. How could my child’s development be affected?
  6. Where can I get more information and support?

Helpful resources

MAGIC Foundation
A leader in support, advocacy, education, and other topics related to endocrine health.
Human Growth Foundation
A non-profit, voluntary organization dedicated to helping children and adults with growth disorders.
Genetic Alliance
A group focused on helping people access quality genetic services that are needed for comprehensive healthcare.
National Organization for Rare Disorders
A patient advocacy organization dedicated to people with rare diseases and the groups that support them.

References: 1. Hormone Health Network. Growth Hormone Deficiency. https://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/children-and-teen-health/growth-hormone-deficiency. Accessed November 15, 2017. 2. KidsHealth from Nemours. Endocrine system. http://kidshealth.org/en/teens/endocrine.html#. Accessed November 17, 2017. 3. Rieser PA. Pediatric growth hormone deficiency. In: Owens RP, Root AW. Growth Hormone Deficiency. The Human Growth Hormone Foundation booklet. 1979. 4. The Hormone Health Network. Growth Hormone Deficiency in Children Fact Sheet. https://www.hormone.org/-/media/hormone/files/questions-and-answers/pediatric/fs_gd_growth_hormone_defic_children_en612.pdf?la=en. Accessed November 17, 2017. 5. Boston Children’s Hospital. Growth hormone deficiency in children. http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/growth-hormone-deficiency. Accessed November 17, 2017. 6. US Census Bureau 2015 Population Estimates. 7. Lindsay R, Feldkamp M, et al. Utah Growth Study: Growth standards and the prevalence of growth hormone deficiency. J Pediatrics. 1994;125:29-35. 8. The MAGIC Foundation. Endocrine Disorders. https://www.magicfoundation.org/growth-disorders/. Accessed November 17, 2017.