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Short stature is a general term for people whose height is considerably below average compared to the height of their peers. While it can apply to adults, the term is more commonly used to refer to children.
A child can be significantly shorter than their friends and still be perfectly healthy. This is particularly true if both parents are also shorter than average. Genetics is a major determinant of height.
However, short stature can indicate an underlying medical problem. In these cases, many children can grow to a normal height with proper treatment. For others, short stature may be permanent.
Your child’s doctor will measure your child’s height and then refer to a growth chart. This chart shows the average height of other children of the same age and sex. Based on guidelines set by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, doctors consider a child to be of short stature if their height falls within the lowest two percentiles of their peer group.
The three major reasons for short stature are constitutional growth delay, genetics, and disease.
Some children simply develop later than others. These children are often referred to as "late bloomers." These kids are small for their age and often enter puberty later. However, they’ll continue to grow after their friends have stopped. They usually catch up by adulthood.
If one or both parents are short, there’s a strong possibility that their child will also be short. If there are no underlying medical reasons why either parent is short, their child’s short stature may be perfectly healthy.
A number of diseases may cause unusually short stature. These diseases fall into several categories.
Problems during pregnancy can affect the height of a child. Malnutrition can also lead to short stature. Growth problems caused by malnutrition are uncommon in the United States.
Only a doctor can determine whether your child’s short stature has a medical cause. This process takes time. That’s why it’s very important to have regular checkups with a family doctor or pediatrician.
You can also monitor your child’s height and overall health at home. Some questions to ask yourself are:
Providing the answers to these questions will give your doctor a head start in diagnosing any issues.
Your doctor will measure your child’s height, weight, and limb length. Your doctor will also ask about your family’s and child’s medical history. Questions you should be prepared to answer include:
Your doctor may order medical tests if they suspect a medical condition. These tests can include:
Treatment for short stature depends on the cause.
Thyroid hormone replacement can be used to treat hypothyroidism. Growth hormone injections can treat GHD and a number of other conditions, including Turner syndrome and chronic kidney failure.
Not all short stature needs treatment. For children who are naturally short, no treatment is necessary. However, it can be challenging if a child is dealing with teasing from other kids. Parents can provide reassurance and emphasis on acceptance and loving one’s body.
People who have a naturally short stature that’s not due to a medical condition or disease can expect to lead normal and healthy lives.
Children with GHD and other hormone-related conditions generally reach average height or a height similar to their parents if they receive treatment before puberty. For those with genetic or skeletal diseases, short stature will likely be a lifelong issue.
Written by: Annette Ha
Medically reviewed on: Mar 08, 2016: George Krucik, MD, MBA
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