A growth hormone deficiency (GHD) occurs when the pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough growth hormone. It more commonly affects children than adults.
The pituitary gland is a small gland about the size of a pea. It’s located at the base of the skull and secretes eight hormones. Some of these hormones control thyroid activity and body temperature.
GHD is also a symptom of several genetic diseases, including Turner syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome.
You may be concerned if your child is not meeting height and weight growth standards. Your body still needs growth hormone after you’ve finished puberty. Once you’re in adulthood, the growth hormone maintains your body structure and metabolism. Adults can also develop GHD, but it isn’t as common.
Children with GHD are shorter than their peers and have younger, rounder faces. They may also be chubby or have “baby fat” around the abdomen, even though their body proportions are normal.
If GHD develops later in a child’s life, its main symptom is delayed puberty. In some instances, sexual development is halted.
Many teens with GHD experience low self-esteem due to developmental delays such as short stature or a slow rate of maturing. For example, young women may not develop breasts and young men’s voices may not change at the same rate as their peers.
Reduced bone strength is another symptom of GHD. This may lead to more frequent fractures, especially in older adults. People with low growth hormone levels may feel tired and lack stamina. They may experience sensitivity to hot or cold temperatures.
A variety of psychological symptoms can occur, including depression, lack of concentration, poor memory, bouts of anxiety or emotional distress.
Adults with GHD typically have high levels of fat in the blood and high cholesterol. This isn’t due to poor diet, but rather to changes in the body’s metabolism caused by low levels of growth hormone. Adults with GHD are at greater risk for diabetes and heart disease.
Synthetic growth hormones have been used by injection, but their side effects may include redness at the injection site, headaches, hip pain, curving of the spine (scoliosis).
Long-term growth hormone injections may contribute to the development of diabetes, especially in people with a family history of that disease.
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