Growth Hormone Deficiency

  • Medical Author: Mohsen S Eledrisi, MD, FACP, FACE
  • Medical Editor: Arthur B Chausmer, MD, PhD, FACP, FACE, FACN, CNS
  • Medical Editor: Francisco Talavera, PharmD, PhD
  • Medical Editor: George T Griffing, MD

What Facts Should I Know about Growth Hormone Deficiency?

What is the medical definition of growth hormone deficiency?

  • Growth hormone (GH) deficiency is a disorder that involves the pituitary gland (a small gland located at the base of the brain), which produces growth hormone and other hormones. When the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone, growth will be slower than normal.

What happens if you don't have enough growth hormone?

  • Growth hormone is needed for normal growth in children. In adults, growth hormone is needed to maintain the proper amounts of body fat, muscle, and bone.
  • In adults, low or absent growth hormone can also cause emotional symptoms, such as tiredness and lack of motivation.
  • Cholesterol may also be affected.

How do you treat growth hormone deficiency?

  • Adults with growth hormone deficiency usually have a history of pituitary tumors that may have been treated with surgery or radiation.
  • GH deficiency can occur at any age.

Growth Hormone Deficiency Causes

Growth hormone deficiency is caused by low or absent secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary gland. This can be caused by congenital (a condition that is present at birth) or acquired (a condition that occurs after birth) conditions. Congenital growth hormone deficiency may be associated with an abnormal pituitary gland, or it may be part of another syndrome. In normal aging, there is a decrease in the amount of growth hormone secreted each day and in the pattern of secretion. It is not clear if this is clinically important or requires any additional administration. Acquired causes of growth hormone deficiency include infections; brain tumors; and injury, surgery, or radiation to the head. In some cases, no causes can be identified.

Growth Hormone Deficiency Symptoms

Symptoms of GH deficiency in children include the following:

  • Short stature
  • Low growth velocity (speed) for age and pubertal stage
  • Increased amount of fat around the waist
  • The child may look younger than other children his or her age
  • Delayed tooth development
  • Delayed onset of puberty

Symptoms of GH deficiency in adults include the following:

  • Low energy
  • Decreased strength and exercise tolerance
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Weight gain, especially around the waist
  • Feelings of anxiety, depression, or sadness causing a change in social behavior
  • Thin and dry skin

When to Seek Medical Care for Growth Hormone Deficiency

If there is a question of growth hormone deficiency in either a child or an adult, consultation with a pediatric or adult endocrinologist, as appropriate, is recommended. The endocrinologist may order an insulin hypoglycemia test wihich is the gold standard for determining HGH deficiency.

  • insulin (hormone that regulates blood sugar levels) is given through an IV to produce a low plasma glucose (a sugar) level. The peak growth hormone level is measured 20-30 minutes later.
  • If the peak growth hormone level is less than 10 mcg/mL in children or less than 3 mcg/mL in adults, growth hormone deficiency is diagnosed.

Persons with growth hormone deficiency may have increased total cholesterol, low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol, apolipoprotein B, and triglyceride levels.

Other tests that may be performed include a CT scan and/or MRI of the brain and/or bones. Images from these tests may reveal tumors. Reduced bone density can be evaluated by a DEXA or bone density scan.

Self-Care at Home for Growth Hormone Deficiency

Because growth hormone deficiency can cause a lack of energy and strength, patients should eat a balanced diet, get regular exercise, and get plenty of sleep.

Growth Hormone Deficiency Medications and Treatment

Children and some adults with growth hormone deficiency will benefit from growth hormone therapy. The goals of treatment are to increase growth in children and restore energy, metabolism, and body composition. The doctor may prescribe growth hormone, also called somatropin (Humatrope, Genotropin). The drug is given as shots a few times a week that is injected underneath the fat of the patient’s skin.

Surgery for Growth Hormone Deficiency

Pituitary tumors may require surgery.

Other Therapy for Growth Hormone Deficiency

Radiation therapy to the pituitary gland may be required if surgery for tumor removal cannot be safely accomplished.

Follow-up for Growth Hormone Deficiency

Follow-up care with an endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in studying hormones) is recommended.

Outlook for Growth Hormone Deficiency

The prognosis is determined by the patient’s response to growth hormone replacement therapy and the underlying cause of the deficiency.

  • Muscle mass may increase.
  • The patient may lose weight.
  • Exercise tolerance and performance may be increased.
  • Energy may increase.
  • Mood may improve.

Complications of growth hormone deficiency may include the following:

Support Groups and Counseling for Growth Hormone Deficiency

Some patients may benefit from counseling or joining a support group with other people who have growth hormone deficiency.

Health Solutions From Our Sponsors

Medically reviewed by Larry Deeb, MD; American Board of Pediatrics with subspecialty in Pediatric Endocrinology


"Diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency in children"

Patient Comments & Reviews

  • Growth Hormone Deficiency - Symptoms

    What were your symptoms of growth hormone deficiency?

    Post View 1 Comment