Short stature is defined as height below the 3rd percentile for the child's age (according to standard charts for age and height).
Most adolescents have short stature because their families are short, or because their growth spurt comes at the late end of the normal range of time for such development. However, some adolescents are short because of certain chronic illnesses or genetic and endocrine disorders. Such disorders include bone abnormalities and chronic illnesses that affect the heart, lungs, kidneys, or intestines.
The pituitary gland regulates the amount of growth hormone produced. If the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone, abnormally slow growth and short stature with normal proportions (called hypopituitarism or pituitary dwarfism) can result. Hypopituitarism caused by a tumor can be treated surgically. Other causes of hypopituitarism are treated with growth hormone. Growth hormone also may be used to increase height in children who have short stature but normally functioning pituitary glands, but this use is controversial. Some parents feel that short stature is a disorder, but most doctors do not approve of the use of growth hormone in these children. Regardless of the cause of short stature, pituitary hormone is effective only if given before the growth plates in the long bones become inactive. X-rays can help determine whether the growth plates are inactive.
Last full review/revision January 2009 by Sharon Levy, MD, MPH