Precocious (Early) Puberty
Growth development in human begins at conception. Proceeding through easy to identify stages, both genetic and environmental factors influence the natural height. The action of the growth hormone from the pituitary gland in particular, heavily determines a normal or not growth path.
Early onset puberty appears to be occurring at a decreasing age in the United States. For example, early puberty in girls occurs in 8 to 10% of Caucasian and almost 30% of African American girls. This means that the age of precocious puberty starts around 8 years old for girls and 9 for boys.
If precocious puberty is left untreated, most boys wouldn’t grow taller than 5′ 2″ and the girls would stop growing at around 5′.
Causes of Early Puberty
Early puberty causes include tumors or growths on the ovaries, adrenal glands, brain or pituitary gland. Central nervous system disorders, family history and genetic syndromes can also cause early puberty onset. Often, no cause can be discovered for the problem.
There are two types of precocious puberty:
Gonadotropin-dependent precocious puberty- Also known as central precocious puberty, this is the most common form of precocious puberty. This type affects most girls and about half the boys with the disorder.
The early puberty is sparked by the premature secretion of the hormones responsible for puberty (gonadotropins). Researchers have not been able to discover the reason for this in most cases.
Gonadotropin-independent precocious puberty- This form of early puberty cannot be tied to the early release of the gonadotropins.
Precocious Puberty Symptom
Each child displays symptoms differently. But like normal puberty, the symptoms include secondary sexual characteristics. Following are some of the most common symptoms:
Girls and Early Puberty Symptoms include pubic and underarm hair, menstruation, ovulation and breast maturation.
Boys and Early Puberty Symptoms include pubic and underarm hair, an enlarging penis and testicles, sperm production, facial hair, acne and spontaneous erections.
In both genders, again, as in normal age puberty, moodiness, aggression and sudden growth can occur.
Precocious Puberty Diagnosis
A complete medical history and physical exam are completed. Additional diagnoses can include:
- Bone X-rays
- Measurement of related hormones (thyroid, testosterone, gonadotropins)
- Stimulation test of the gonadotropin-stimulating hormone
Once the correct diagnosis is made, there are a variety of treatments for early puberty.
Precocious Puberty Treatment
The objective of treatment for early puberty is to at least reverse and possibly stop it. Factors influencing treatment include the age of the child, medical history, the extent of the condition, the child’s tolerance for the treatment and parental preference.
As with any disorder related to pediatric endocrinology, an endocrinologist will consult with a primary pediatrician to help the child with precocious puberty coping.
Treatment and coping mechanisms for the emotional changes, mood swings and possible feelings of alienation the child may undergo, will be discussed with the all of the concerned parties. It’s important to help the child adjust to the rapid changes he/she is going through.
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