What Is Growth Hormone Deficiency?

Reviewed on 11/9/2021
Growth hormone (GH) deficiency is a disorder that causes symptoms such as short stature, delayed puberty, low energy, and others.
Growth hormone (GH) deficiency is a disorder that causes symptoms such as short stature, delayed puberty, low energy, and others.

Growth hormone (GH) deficiency is a disorder in which the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone that is responsible for normal growth in children. GH deficiency can occur at any age.

  • In children, GH deficiency can slow growth during puberty (which can also be delayed) and result in short stature.
  • In adults, growth hormone is needed to maintain the proper amounts of body fat, muscle, and bone. Low or absent growth hormone can also cause low energy and a lack of motivation.

What Are Symptoms of Growth Hormone Deficiency?

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:

What Causes Growth Hormone Deficiency?

The cause of growth hormone deficiency is a low or absent secretion of growth hormone from the pituitary gland, which can be present at birth or acquired later in life.

Sometimes growth hormone deficiency may be a symptom of another syndrome. Acquired causes of growth hormone deficiency include

  • infections
  • brain tumors and
  • injury, surgery, or radiation to the head.

In some cases, there is no identifiable cause.

How Do You Get Diagnosed with Growth Hormone Deficiency?

A consultation with a pediatric or adult endocrinologist is recommended to formally diagnose growth hormone deficiency, which can be diagnosed with an insulin hypoglycemia test.

Growth hormone deficiency is diagnosed when the levels of peak growth hormone level are less than the numbers listed in the table below.

Growth Hormone (GH) Deficiency Levels in Children and Adults Chart
Peak GH Levels in Children Peak GH Levels in Adults
less than 10 mcg/mL less than 3 mcg/mL

Other tests may include a CT scanMRI, or DEXA or bone density scan of the brain and/or bones to check for tumors and reduced bone density.

What Is the Treatment for Growth Hormone Deficiency?

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.

  • Medication: 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: Pituitary tumors may require surgery.
  • Radiation therapy: When the tumor cannot be safely removed by surgery, radiation therapy to the pituitary gland may be required.
  • Follow-up care with an endocrinologist (a doctor who specializes in hormone-related diseases and conditions) is recommended.

What Are Some Tips for Living with Growth Hormone Deficiency?

  • Lifestyle changes such as a balanced diet, regular exercise, and getting adequate sleep can help people cope with symptoms of growth hormone deficiency such as a lack of energy and strength.
  • Some patients may benefit from counseling or joining a support group with other people who have growth hormone deficiency.
Reviewed on 11/9/2021
Rose, S.R. "Optimal therapy of growth hormone deficiency in the child and adolescent." US Endocrinology 6 (2010): 71-77.

"Diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency in children"