An Overview of Growth Hormone Deficiency

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Growth hormone deficiency is a disorder which develops when the pituitary gland produces an insufficient amount of growth hormone. This causes delays in growth, short stature, and overall delays in bodily maturation, specifically regarding the length of bones. This disorder primarily involves the endocrine system, as it includes the production of hormones which affect other bodily functions and structures.


Although growth hormone deficiency does have a secondary impact on other bodily systems it is mainly the integumentary system, which includes skin, hair, and bones, that is involved.

Symptoms of growth hormone deficiency include:

  • Slowed development of facial bones
  • Fine or sparse hair
  • Insufficient nail growth
  • Delayed growth of adult teeth
  • Delays in bone growth
  • Lack of closure to bones of the skull (which often presents as a large forehead)
  • High-pitched voice
  • Small or underdeveloped bridge of the nose
  • Excess of abdominal fat

These symptoms may also cause a delay in the onset of puberty. Some males may present with a micropenis, though this is not part of the diagnostic criteria, as it only occurs occasionally.

These symptoms all arise during middle childhood, meaning newborns with growth hormone deficiency are typically normal size and delays result as the child develops and matures.

Unlike some common beliefs, all symptoms of growth hormone deficiency are purely physical in nature and have no impact on an individual’s ability to learn.


Growth hormone deficiency can have three causes, which may all be present in some individuals.


Some individuals born with growth hormone deficiency possess the congenital form which typically results from brain defects causing inadequate development of the pituitary gland. The congenital form may also be inherited which has the same cause, resulting in the same set of symptoms.


Acquired growth hormone deficiency can occur at any point after birth through the lifespan. This can develop after incidents such as radiation, trauma to the brain, infection, tumors, and other systemic disorders.


The last type of growth hormone deficiency is idiopathic, meaning the true cause of the deficiency is unknown. Those with idiopathic growth hormone deficiency are typically diagnosed if none of the above causes have been identified but an individual still meets all the criteria for diagnosis.


Diagnosis can best be made by testing levels of insulin, arginine, clonidine, and l-dopa, all of which help stimulate the pituitary gland. By stimulating the pituitary, doctors can then measure growth hormone in the blood to determine if levels are at a normal level or below average.

Tests for thyroid stimulating hormone and cortisol are frequently also completed, as they can rule out other causes of delayed growth and speed up the process of diagnosis.


The most common treatment of growth hormone deficiency for children is daily injections of synthetic growth hormone. When diagnosis is made early, these injections can be started early.

Treatment injections are completed over the course of several years so there is a high probability a child can attain a relatively normal rate of growth and development.

Injections are typically at their highest dosage around the predicted age of puberty and then discontinued.

Common synthetic growth hormone injections (somatropin) include:

  • Norditropin
  • Genotropin
  • Saizen
  • Tev-Tropin
  • Omnitrope

While synthetic injections are considered safe by allopathic medical doctors, accurate diagnosis of true growth hormone deficiency is important to avoid unnecessarily providing this treatment in those who have delayed growth with other causes.

Treating Associated Developmental Disorders

Individuals with human growth hormone deficiency may also have developmental disorders which can involve behavioral difficulties, learning disabilities, and/or cognitive deficits. However, this is not due to the presence of a growth hormone deficiency, rather due to the general underdevelopment of the brain and other bodily structures.

This can complicate the course of treatment, making it even more important to receive early intervention therapy services when indicated. These supplemental treatments can increase the developmental progression and quality-of-life of your child.

  • Physical therapy can address delays in walking and strength.
  • Occupational therapy can address delays in self-feeding, dressing, toileting, and learning.
  • Speech therapy can address low strength in oral and facial structures which impact the ability to swallow and communicate with others.

These therapies can be used at any age to address a variety of deficits which result from growth hormone deficiency.

Consult a doctor with questions about diagnosis or treatment of growth hormone deficiency. If you believe your child has a growth hormone deficiency, early intervention will be integral for increasing the chance of normal development and successful integration within their environment.

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