Patient information: My child is short (The Basics)
Written by the doctors and editors at UpToDate
How do I know if my child is shorter than normal? — Your child’s doctor or nurse will tell you. He or she will measure your child’s height. Then he or she will compare your child’s height to the height of other children who are the same age and sex. If your child is much shorter than other children of the same age and sex, doctors call it “short stature.”
The doctor or nurse will measure your child’s height at each visit. That way, he or she can follow your child’s growth over time to track his or her progress.
Normally, children grow a lot in the first 2 years of life. Then their growth slows down until they go through puberty. Puberty is a term for the changes in the body that happen during the pre-teen and teen years. During puberty, children grow a lot in a short amount of time. This is called a “growth spurt.”
If my child is short, does it mean he or she has a medical problem? — Probably not. Many children who are short are healthy and do not have a medical problem. These children are short because:
●One or both of their parents are short. If a child’s parents are short, chances are good that he or she will be short, too.
●They are growing more slowly than normal. Doctors call this “growth delay.” These children are short because they have their growth spurt later than other children. But these children will grow to a normal height as adults.
●They had a growth spurt at a younger age. Some children grow quickly when they are young and go through their growth spurt early. For a while, they are taller than other children their age. But then other children catch up to them and grow taller.
Some children who are short do have a medical problem. Different problems and conditions can cause children to be shorter than normal. Some of these include:
●Being very thin
●Long-term conditions that affect the digestive system, heart, lungs, kidneys, or blood
●A condition called “growth hormone deficiency” – People with this condition have too little growth hormone in their body. Growth hormone is a substance made by a gland located at the base of the brain. This gland is called the pituitary gland (figure 1). Children need growth hormone to grow taller and develop muscles.
●Problems that babies are born with, caused by abnormal genes
Will my child need tests? — Maybe. The doctor or nurse will want to know why your child is shorter than normal. He or she will talk with you and ask about the growth and heights of other family members. He or she will examine your child, and might also do:
●Blood tests – The doctor can check for different conditions, including growth hormone deficiency.
●X-rays of one of your child’s hands and wrists – Doctors can use these X-rays to help tell how tall your child will grow.
Will my child need treatment? — It depends on why your child is short. If your child is short because of a medical problem, his or her doctor might be able to treat it.
Doctors treat growth hormone deficiency in children by giving them growth hormone. They can also use growth hormone to treat children who are not growing normally because of other long-term medical conditions. Growth hormone treatment usually involves getting a shot of the hormone every day for many years. A doctor or nurse will teach you how to give the shot to your child. Children who get growth hormone treatment usually need regular follow-up blood tests.
Is growth hormone treatment ever used for children without growth hormone deficiency? — Not usually. That’s because:
●Growth hormone treatment doesn’t always make children grow. Even if growth hormone does make a child grow, he or she will only grow 2 to 3 inches (4 to 6 cm). A short child will not become tall with growth hormone treatment.
●The treatment costs a lot of money and is not easy. Children usually need to get a shot every day for many years.
●Being short isn’t usually a problem for children and doesn’t keep them from having a normal, happy life.
Is there anything I can do on my own to help my child? — Yes. You can:
●Make sure your child gets enough food and eats a healthy diet. If you need help changing your child’s diet, ask the doctor or nurse.
●Help your child feel good about him or herself. Try to point out your child’s strengths and not focus too much on his or her height.