What is HGH Deficiency?
Growth hormone deficiency (GHD) occurs when the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone. It affects children more often than adults.
The pituitary gland is a small gland about the size of a pea. It is located at the base of the skull and releases eight hormones. Some of these hormones regulate the activity of the thyroid gland and body temperature.
GHD occurs in about 1 in 7,000 births. This condition is also a symptom of several genetic diseases, including Turner’s syndrome and Prader-Willi syndrome.
You may become increasingly concerned if your baby does not meet height and weight standards. Growth hormone deficiency is treatable. Children who are diagnosed early before their bones fuse often do very well. Leaving your child untreated can lead to shorter-than-average height and delayed puberty.
Your body still needs growth hormone after puberty. When you are an adult, growth hormone maintains your body’s structure and metabolism. Adults can also develop GHD, but this is not very common.
What causes a deficiency in HGH?
Children with cleft lips or palates often have an underdeveloped pituitary gland, which increases their chances of developing GHD.
GHD, which does not occur at birth, can be caused by a tumor in the brain. These tumors are usually located at the site of the pituitary gland or in a nearby area of the brain’s hypothalamus.
In children and adults, severe head injury, infection, and radiation therapy can also cause GHD. This is called acquired HGH deficiency (AGHD).
HGH Deficiency: Signs to look for
Children with GHD are shorter than their peers and have younger, more rounded faces. They may also be fat or have “baby fat” around their tummies, even though their body proportions are normal.
If GHD develops later in a child’s life, for example because of brain damage or a tumor, the most important symptom is delayed puberty. In some cases, sexual development is inhibited.
Many adolescents with GHD have low self-esteem as a result of developmental delays, such as slow growth or slow puberty. For example, young women may not develop breasts and young men’s voices may not change at the same rate as their peers.
Another symptom of AGHD is decreased bone strength. This can lead to more frequent fractures, especially in older people. People with low levels of HGH may feel tired and lack strength. They may also be sensitive to high or low temperatures.
Various psychological symptoms may occur, including:
- lack of focus
- Poor memory
Adults with AGHD usually have high levels of fat and cholesterol in their blood. This is not due to a poor diet, but to changes in the body’s metabolism due to low levels of HGH. Adults with AGHD are more prompt to develop diabetes and heart disease.
How is HGH deficiency diagnosed?
Your child’s physician will look for symptoms of GHD if your child does not meet the criteria for growth and weight. He or she will ask you about your child’s growth rate as he or she approaches puberty and about the growth rate of your other children. If GHD is suspected, many tests can confirm the diagnosis.
A blood test can measure the level of HGH in the body. However, growth hormone level are subject to wide fluctuations during the day and night (“day and night fluctuations”). A blood test with a lower than normal result is not enough evidence to make a diagnosis.
An x-ray could also be ordered by the doctor to see if the growth plates of the child have not fused yet. Once growth plates fuse it becomes almost impossible to grow taller.
Kidney and thyroid tests can determine how the body makes and uses hormones.
If the doctor suspects a tumor or other damage to the pituitary gland, an MRI can give a detailed picture of the inside of the brain. HGH levels are often checked in adults who have a history of pituitary gland damage, have a brain injury, or need brain surgery.
Tests can determine whether the pituitary problem was present at birth or caused by a tumor or trauma.
How is HGH deficiency treated?
Since the mid-1980s, synthetic HGH (Somatropin)has been used with great success in treating children and adults. Before the use of synthetic growth hormones, natural growth hormones from cadavers (Somatotropin) were used to treat them.
Growth hormone is injected, usually into the fatty tissue of the body, such as the back of the arms, thighs, or buttocks. It is most effective as a daily treatment.
Side effects are usually small, but they can be:
- redness at the injection site
- Carpal tunnel
- hip pain
- curvature of the spine (scoliosis)
In rare cases, prolonged injections of HGH may contribute to the development of diabetes, especially in people with a family history of the disease.
long-term treatment with HGH
Children with congenital GHD are often treated with growth hormone until they are sexually mature. Often children who have too little HGH in their childhood start producing enough naturally when they reach adulthood. However, some of them remain on treatment for life. Your doctor can tell if you need the current injections by checking your blood hormone levels.
What is the long-term outlook for GHD?
Make an appointment with your doctor if you or your child is suspected of having an HGH deficiency. Many people respond very well to treatment with HGH injections. The sooner you start treatment, the better the results.