Hypopituitarism (Dwarfism)

Father holding newborn daughter.
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Hypopituitarism (dwarfism) is a rare disease that results from the low production of hormones in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is located deep within your brain and is an important aspect of the endocrine system.

In children, human growth hormone deficiencies can lead to impaired growth, also known as dwarfism. Early diagnosis and medical intervention can sometimes correct this deficiency, allowing the affected individual to reach a normal or near-normal height.

In addition to stunted growth, hypopituitarism can also cause deficiencies in thyroid or adrenal hormones.

What Causes Hypopituitarism?

The most common cause of hypopituitarism is a tumor located in or around the pituitary gland. Surgery or radiation therapy near the pituitary gland can also stimulate dwarfism. In some rare cases, illnesses like tuberculosis can cause inflammation that causes hypopituitarism as well.

What Are the Symptoms of Hypopituitarism?

Besides slowed growth, there are many other symptoms of hypopituitarism:

  • Impairment of sexual maturity
  • Nausea
  • Weakness or dizziness
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Facial puffiness or bloating
  • Slowed or fuzzy thinking

How Is Hypopituitarism Diagnosed?

Diagnosing hypopituitarism can be difficult as it often goes unnoticed early on. During the first two years of life, a child with growth hormone deficiency may grow at a normal rate and may seem perfectly healthy. As the child becomes older, however, parents may notice that their child does not seem to be growing properly. The child may be smaller when compared to other kids his age and may look younger than them or have different proportions.

A child who grows less than 2 inches per year, or who is only as tall as children two or more years younger, should be evaluated by a physician for growth hormone deficiency after other possible causes, such as hypothyroidism, have been ruled out. Your child's doctor will look at the patient history, perform a physical exam and may recommend an X-ray to look for the presence of a tumor. He may also perform blood tests to check pituitary, thyroid and adrenal glands.

Testing for growth hormone deficiency is done by stimulating the body to produce the hormone and then measuring how much hormone is actually released.

Can Hypopituitarism Be Treated?

In most cases, people with hypopituitarism will undergo hormonal therapy throughout their entire lifetimes. Depending on the individual's deficiency, different hormones may be administered.

In order for a more normal height to be achieved, children will need to have human growth hormone replacement therapy. Growth hormone deficiency is treated by injections of a growth hormone preparation such as Humatrope (somatropin). A child may receive daily or weekly injections. The child's growth rate increases soon after the injections are started. The treatment continues over several years until the child's maximum growth potential is achieved. Most children will reach an "acceptable" adult height.

The average adult height for someone with untreated severe growth hormone deficiency is 4 feet, 8 inches in men and 4 feet, 3 inches in women, while those who undergo early treatments will reach more average heights in the range of 5 feet and up.

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Article Sources

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  • Human Growth Foundation. "Disorders of Growth." 2009.
  • Levy, Richard. "Growth Hormone Deficiency in Children." The Magic Foundation.2009.
  • Pituitary Network Association. "Hypopituitarism." 2014.