Growth Hormone Deficiency in Children

Reviewed on 11/8/2021

What Facts Should I Know about Growth Hormone Deficiency?

Pituitary Gland
The pituitary gland produces hormones that control other glands and many body functions including growth.

What Is the Medical Definition of Grown 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.

What Happens if You Don’t Have Enough Growth Hormone?

  • When the pituitary gland does not produce enough growth hormone, growth will be slower than normal.
  • 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. 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.

What Causes Growth Hormone Deficiency?

Growth hormone deficiency is caused by the 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.

What Are the 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
  • The increased amount of fat around the waist
  • The child may look younger than other children his or her age
  • Delayed tooth development

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 Should I 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.

  • insulin (hormone that regulates blood sugar levels) 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.

Are there Home Remedies 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.

What Are the Medications for Growth Hormone Deficiencies?

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.

What Is the Surgery for Growth Hormone Deficiency?

Pituitary tumors may require surgery.

What Is Other Therapy to Treat Hormone Deficiency?

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

What is the Follow-up for Growth Hormone Deficiency?

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

What Is the Prognosis 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:

Reviewed on 11/8/2021
Medically reviewed by Larry Deeb, MD; American Board of Pediatrics with subspecialty in Pediatric Endocrinology


Rose, S.R. "Optimal therapy of growth hormone deficiency in the child and adolescent." US Endocrinology 6 (2010): 71-77.