Growth Hormone is the most important hormone that is essential for the growth of the child. Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland, located deep inside the brain. If there is a problem in the pituitary gland or its connections, the release of growth hormone will be affected, leading to growth hormone deficiency.
In many cases, the cause of growth hormone deficiency cannot be identified. In some it can be present from birth due to poor development of pituitary gland or can develop later in childhood, rarely due to brain tumors.
The main symptom of growth hormone deficiency is that growth slows down or stops from the age of two or three years onwards. Growth hormone deficiency may be suspected through routine monitoring using growth charts or it may become more obvious when a child starts school and is much shorter than other children in the class.
Growth hormone deficiency is diagnosed using blood tests to measure the levels of certain hormones within the blood. Careful monitoring of height and growth is also carried out using standard growth charts that show a child’s height in relation to average rates for children of the same age and gender. An X-ray of the hand will be needed to assess the bone age. If a problem with the pituitary or brain is suspected, a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of brain will be needed.
Growth hormone deficiency treatment and monitoring is best carried out by a paediatric endocrinologist (doctor specialising in children’s hormone problems).
Growth hormone deficiency is treated by replacing the missing hormone with artificial Growth hormone. Growth hormone is available only as injections as this medicine is not effective as tablets. It is given as once daily injections before bed using the smallest needle as possible without causing discomfort to the child. The aim of growth hormone therapy is to treat growth hormone deficiency by returning the child to the normal growth curve so reaching the height that wouldbe expected taking into account parents’ height. Growth hormone treatment should be started early to achieve better final adult height.
Growth hormone medicine has been in use for the past 30 years and there has been no serious side effects noted. Some of these children develop headaches in first few days of starting treatment, which can be managed easily.
Children with growth hormone deficiency need regular follow up so that the dose of growth hormone can be adjusted as they increase height and weight. They will also need regular monitoring, not only for the effects of treatment but for any side effects that might occur.
Most of these children with Growth hormone deficiency will need treatment till they finish growing i.e up until 16-18 years of age.