Short stature refers to any person who is significantly below the average height for a person of the same age and sex.
The term often refers to children or adolescents who are significantly below the average height of their peers.
Idiopathic short stature; Non-growth hormone deficient short stature
A growth chart is used to show a child's current height and how fast he or she is growing. It can compare your child to other children of the same age and gender (male or female).
- A child may be shorter or taller than the average child of the same age.
- A measurement called standard deviation (SD) is used to compare the height of different children.
If a child's height is more than 2 SD's below the average height of other children the same age, the child is said to have short stature. This means that almost all of the other children that age (more than 95% or 19 out of 20) are taller.
Your health care provider will monitor your child's growth rate over time.
Many parents become worried if their children are shorter than most or all of the children around them. However, short stature is not necessarily a sign of a health problem.
Short stature that has no medical cause (idiopathic short stature) can be due to:
- Constitutional growth delay. Children are small for their age but are growing at a normal rate. Puberty is often late. These children continue to grow after most of their peers have stopped. Most of the time, they will reach an adult height similar to that of their parents.
- Your genes. One or both parents is short. Short but healthy parents may have a healthy child who is in the shortest 5%. These children are short, but they should reach the height of one or both parents.
Short stature may be a symptom of a number of medical conditions or problems, including:
- Bone or skeletal disorders such as rickets or achondroplasia
- Chronic diseases such as congenital heart disease, kidney diseases, asthma, sickle cell anemia, thalassemia, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, celiac disease, Cushing's disease, hypothyroidism, and diabetes
- Genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Williams syndrome, Russell-Silver syndrome, and Noonan syndrome
- Growth hormone deficiency
- Infections of the developing baby before birth
- Poor growth of a baby while in the womb (intrauterine growth restriction) or small for gestational age
This list does not include every possible cause of short stature.
When to Contact a Medical Professional
All children should have their growth and development monitored on a regular basis.
If your child appears to be much shorter than most children his or her age (or if the growth rate has decreased or stopped), call your health care provider.
What to Expect at Your Office Visit
The health care provider will perform a physical examination. The child's height, weight, and arm and leg lengths will be measured. If the short stature appears to be a sign of some medical condition, further tests, including laboratory studies and x-rays, may be needed.
To learn more about possible causes, the health care provider will ask questions, such as:
- Family history
- How tall are the parents and grandparents?
- How tall are the brothers or sisters?
- Are other relatives less-than-average height?
- Have any family members been diagnosed with a disorder that can cause short stature?
- At what age did the parents start puberty?
- Child's history
- What was the child's birth like?
- How is the child's diet?
- Has the child begun to show signs of puberty?
- At what age did puberty signs begin?
- Has the child always been on the small side of the growth charts?
- Was the child growing normally and then the rate of growth began to slow?
- What other symptoms are present?
- Is the child's short stature affecting self-image or causing any problems at school or with friends?
A bone age x-ray is often done. X-rays are usually made of the left wrist or hand.
- Normally, the size and shape of bones change as a person matures. These changes can be seen on an x-ray and usually follow a pattern as a child grows older.
- Certain causes of short stature may be present if the bones have not changed or matured as expected for the child's age.
Girls with short stature may have a genetic test done to check for certain diseases, such as Turner syndrome.
Other tests may include:
- Complete blood count
- Growth hormone stimulation test may be done for some children
- Insulin growth factor-1 (IGF-1) levels may be done for some children
- Other blood tests to look for liver, kidney, thyroid, and other medical problems
Although your health care provider keeps records of height and weight from routine examinations, you may find it helpful to keep your own records. You may want to bring these records to your health care provider's attention if the growth seems slow or the child seems small.
A child's short stature may often affect self-esteem. Providing emotional support is an important part of treatment. Children may be teased by classmates and friends. Family, friends, and teachers should be sure to emphasize the child's other skills and strengths.
Children of short stature who are found to have a lack of growth hormone in their body will usually be treated with growth hormone injections. See: Growth hormone deficiency
Growth hormone injections are also used to treat children with Turner syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, chronic kidney failure, or idiopathic short stature (ISS).
Children who are of short stature but who have normal growth hormone levels usually do not need growth hormone injections. These children may only receive growth hormone injections when:
- The growth curve shows that the child will be a very short adult. Using growth hormone will usually increase the child's final height by 2 - 3 inches.
- The child was born small for gestational age
Some boys with short stature who also have delayed puberty may receive certain medicines containing the male hormone, testosterone.
Cohen P, Rogol AD, Deal CL, et al. Wit JM: 2007 ISS Consensus Workshop participants. Consensus statement on the diagnosis and treatment of children with idiopathic short stature: a summary of the Growth Hormone Research Society, the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society, and the European Society for Paediatric Endocrinology Workshop. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008;93:4210-4217.
van Gool SA, Kamp GA, Odink RJ, et al. High-dose GH treatment limited to the prepubertal period in young children with idiopathic short stature does not increase adult height. Eur J Endocrinol. 2010 Apr;162(4):653-60. Epub 2010 Jan 28.
Collett-Solberg PF, Misra M. Drug and Therapeutics Committee of the Lawson Wilkins Pediatric Endocrine Society. The role of recombinant human insulin-like growth factor-1 in treating children with short stature. J Clin Endocrinol Metab. 2008;93:10-18.
Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Assistant Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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