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If your child isn’t growing at the normal rate for their age, they have a growth delay. You may notice it yourself or their doctor may notice it during a routine exam. Their growth delay may occur due to an underlying health condition. In some cases, early treatment can help them reach a normal or near normal height.
If you suspect your child isn’t growing at a normal rate, make an appointment with their doctor. It may be a sign of other problems.
If your child is smaller than other children their age, they may have a growth problem. It’s typically considered a medical issue if they’re the same size as children who are two or more years younger than they are, particularly if their rate of growth is slow as well.
Depending on the underlying cause of their growth delay, they may have other symptoms:
Delayed growth can have a wide variety of causes, including:
Your child’s doctor will likely start by taking a detailed medical history. They’ll collect information about your child’s personal and family health history, including:
Their doctor may also chart your child’s growth for six months or more.
Certain tests and imaging studies can also help their doctor develop a diagnosis. A hand and wrist X-ray can provide important information about your child’s bone development in relationship to their age. Blood tests can pick up problems with hormone imbalances or help detect certain diseases of the:
In some cases, the doctor may ask your child to stay overnight in the hospital for blood testing because about two-thirds of growth hormone (GH) production happens while your child sleeps.
In some cases, delayed growth and small stature may be an expected part of a syndrome that your child has already been diagnosed with, such as Down syndrome or Turner syndrome.
Your child’s treatment plan will depend on the cause of their delayed growth. Treating the underlying causes may help them start growing normally.
For example, if your child is diagnosed with a GH deficiency, their doctor may recommend giving them injections of GH at home. They may ask you to give them shots three times per week or as often as every day. This treatment will likely continue for several years as your child continues to grow.
Your child’s outlook will depend on the cause of their growth delay and when they begin treatment. If their condition is diagnosed and treated early, they may reach normal or near normal height. Waiting too long to start treatment can raise their risk of short stature and other complications. Once the growth plates at the end of their bones have closed in young adulthood, they won’t experience any further growth.
Ask your child’s doctor for more information about their specific condition, treatment plan, and outlook. They can help you understand your child’s chances of reaching a normal height, as well as their risk of potential complications.
Written by: Holly McGurgan
Medically reviewed on: Aug 05, 2016: Karen Gill, MD
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