Symptoms and Signs of Growth Failure in Children

Medical Author:
Medically Reviewed on 10/19/2021

Doctor's Notes on Growth Failure in Children

Growth failure in children describes a growth rate is below the appropriate rate or speed for the child's age. Signs and symptoms include a height below the about the 3rd to 5th percentile on a human growth chart. Symptoms and signs of growth failure in children may include one or more the following: the child's height, weight, and head circumference do not progress normally according to standard growth charts, physical skills of babies are slow to develop (for example, rolling over, setting up, standing and/or walking), delayed social and mental skills, and delay in the development of secondary sexual characteristics (for example, breast development in females and development of men's facial hair).

Causes of growth failure in children are often the result of a combination of two or more factors, such as genetics, hormone production, emotional problems, and even nutrition. The following possible causes of growth failure in children may include familial short stature, delayed puberty, malnutrition, chronic diseases and/or systemic disorders (for example, lungs, liver, kidney or connective tissue disorders), child abuse and/or emotional deprivation and neglect (also termed psychosocial dwarfism), endocrine (hormonal) deficiencies, genetic syndromes like Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, or genetic disorders of bone and cartilage or intrauterine growth retardation.

What Are the Treatments of Growth Failure in Children?

Treatments of growth failure in children are directed at the underlying cause. Consequently, having the diagnosis of the underlying cause(s) determines the treatment. For example, the following underlying causes need treatment to eventually address growth failure:

  • Growth hormone deficiency
  • Delayed puberty
  • Chronic diseases like connective tissue disorders
  • Genetic syndromes and disorders
  • Malnutrition
  • Child abuse

The above are examples of underlying problems that, untreated, may lead to growth failure; there are others. However, your doctors may help determine if treatments will likely reduce or stop growth failure in children.

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Kasper, D.L., et al., eds. Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine, 19th Ed. United States: McGraw-Hill Education, 2015.