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Quick Facts

Short Stature in Children

(Growth Hormone Deficiency)


The Manual's Editorial Staff

Last full review/revision Oct 2019| Content last modified Oct 2019
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What is short stature?

Short stature is a height that's shorter than almost all other children of the same age and sex. Short stature doesn't always mean there's a problem. It's just a term doctors use when your child is shorter than all but 3% of children the same age and sex.

  • Some short children are healthy but are just small or are taking longer to reach their full height

  • Sometimes, children don't have enough growth hormone (growth hormone deficiency)

  • Sometimes, children who have a serious illness do not grow normally

  • If children don't have enough growth hormone, doctors give growth hormone shots

Short stature is not the same thing as dwarfism, which is also called osteochondrodysplasia. Children with dwarfism have a genetic disorder that causes abnormal growth and development of bone and cartilage in addition to short stature.

What causes short stature in children?

Often there's no specific cause for being short as a child, particularly when other people in the family are short or took a long time to reach their full height.

Specific causes include:

  • Certain diseases, such as heart, lung, intestine, or thyroid diseases

  • Growth hormone deficiency

Growth hormone is a chemical messenger made in the pituitary gland in your brain. It signals all the tissues in your body to grow and develop. Most of the time, doctors don't know why a child doesn't have enough growth hormone. But sometimes it's caused by another health problem such as:

What are the symptoms of short stature in children?

The main symptom of short stature in children is being:

  • Very short compared to other children of the same age and sex

Children with short stature usually:

  • Grow slowly

  • Get their adult teeth later than normal

  • Have normal proportions (their arms and legs match their height)

How can doctors tell if my child has short stature?

Doctors will:

  • Measure your child's height and weight and plot it on growth charts

  • Take x-rays of the bones of your child's hand to measure the bone age

To find out what is causing your child's short stature, doctors may do:

Doctors do CT or MRI of the head to look for tumors or other problems with the gland that makes growth hormone (the pituitary gland).

How do doctors treat short stature in children?

Doctors treat short stature in children due to low levels of growth hormone using:

  • Shots of growth hormone

Growth hormone is only effective if given before the bones stop growing. It's only given to children with growth hormone deficiency.

If your child has a brain tumor, doctors may do surgery to remove it.

NOTE: This is the Consumer Version. DOCTORS: Click here for the Professional Version
Click here for the Professional Version
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