Growth Disorders in Children

By | June 10, 2022

Growth disorders in children describe abnormal growth behavior during adolescence. The so-called growth curve is used as a guide for classifying a growth disorder.

What are growth disorders?

A growth disorder in children is considered to be growth that deviates significantly from the normal growth pattern for their age. The growth curve is used to determine this. This describes an age-typical ideal growth pattern, but also includes the low and high values ​​that are considered normal. For definitions of liver fibrosis, please visit

If a child’s growth pattern is outside of this range, one assumes a growth disorder. The children are then classified as short or tall. Only 0.05 percent of all children are affected by such developmental disorders, the causes of which can be of different nature.

A rough distinction is made between hormonal, genetic and disease-related growth disorders. If these causes can be identified as triggers for the developmental disorder and if several studies also prove the deviations from the growth curve, one speaks of a growth or developmental disorder in children.


There are many causes of stunted growth in children. For example, the genetic predisposition and the growth of the parents influence the growth curve of their children.

A special case is constitutional short stature. The growth values ​​of the children affected are in the lower normal range of the growth curve and the curve of the parents is also still normal. Nevertheless, skeletal development is delayed in these children.

Although their puberty often occurs with a delay, those affected regain a normal height in adulthood. Pituitary short stature is considered a hormonal growth disorder and is caused by the pituitary gland not producing enough growth hormone. Finally, chronic heart and lung diseases can also cause growth disorders in children, such as so-called secondary short stature.

Symptoms, Ailments & Signs

In addition to a body size that is too small or too large outside the age-appropriate normal range, various abnormalities can indicate a growth disorder in children. These include an unnatural head circumference that does not correspond to age, as well as hands and feet that are too small or too large. In many cases, slow tooth development also indicates growth retardation.

For this reason, the change of teeth also develops later than in children of the same age. There is also increased fatty tissue and a doll-like face. In boys, the genitals are noticeably small. The voice remains high-pitched and squeaky for a long period of time. The muscle mass is less pronounced and causes less strength. People of the same age have more energy.

Stunted growth in children often leads to taunts from other children, which can lead to signs of depressive moods. Inferiority complexes and a lack of self-esteem can also present as complaints. Significantly low blood sugar levels can be a sign of stunted growth in babies.

Growth failure due to growth hormone deficiency usually affects all parts of the body (proportioned short stature). If an underactive thyroid gland is responsible for short stature, the children can suffer from fatigue, dry skin and constipation. Growth hormone deficiency can result in children often not wanting to eat and drink enough. Excessive growth spurts can lead to pain in the limbs, especially during periods of rest.

Diagnosis & History

Multiple assessments of growth progress help to match their growth pattern to the general age-typical growth curve and identify growth disorders in children. Preliminary examinations before birth can help to identify developmental disorders in children.

Further regular growth and weight measurements then result in the individual growth curve of the child. Separate rules should be applied to premature babies. If a significant deviation from the normal age-related growth curve is found, a growth disorder in children can be assumed.

Follow-up testing, along with assessment of other factors such as diet and digestion, physical activity, and symptoms of other conditions, will then help identify any hormonal and disease-related causes of stunted growth in children.


Growth disorders in children can manifest themselves in very different ways and usually always lead to significantly delayed development. This has a very negative effect on the further life and adulthood of the affected child. Many children with these disorders also suffer from bullying or depression and sometimes develop mental disorders or even depression as a result.

Significantly reduced self-esteem or inferiority complexes can also occur and make everyday life difficult for the child. Growth disorders in children are often associated with other diseases, so that the children suffer from very brittle bones or various tumors. This may also reduce the life expectancy of the patient.

Parents and relatives often suffer from depression or psychological problems. Growth disorders in children are treated with medication. In the case of tumors, these must be removed. A completely positive course of the disease does not arise in most cases. With the help of supplements, growth can be accelerated in some cases. Early diagnosis of these disorders always has a positive effect on the course of the disease.

When should you go to the doctor?

If there are any abnormalities in children during their natural growth and development process, the observations should be discussed with a doctor. Poor posture, restricted mobility, pain or other peculiarities indicate a health problem. A doctor should be consulted so that a cause analysis can be initiated. If the child shows a strongly reduced or increased growth in direct comparison to playmates of the same age, a doctor’s visit is advisable.

Medical help should be sought in the case of gait disorders, visual abnormalities in locomotion and unequal lengths of the limbs. If problems arise in everyday life or during sporting activities, the child needs support. Change measures are necessary so that there is no impairment of the quality of life. In the event of growth disorders, a reaction should always be taken as early as possible. This is essential for the best possible treatment strategy.

The more advanced the disturbances are, the more complex the necessary measures become. In some cases, there are lifelong impairments. If, in addition to the physical abnormalities, there are also emotional stress conditions, the child also needs sufficient support. In the case of mood swings, behavioral problems and withdrawal from social life, it is advisable to clarify the triggers and reasons. In the case of depressive states, outbursts of anger, disturbances in eating habits or irregular sleep patterns, it is advisable to consult a doctor.

Treatment & Therapy

Genetic growth disorders in children can be detected by preliminary examinations of the fetus and the growth patterns of the parents. For example, both hypochondroplasia and brittle bone disease are growth disorders in children, both of which result from changes in the same gene. However, these changes are expressed in very different disorders of the bone and cartilage structure, of which there are over 200 different variants.

Hormone-related growth disorders can be treated by the targeted supply of hormones. If a tumor is responsible for the gland in question producing too much or too little growth hormone, surgical removal of the tumor can have a positive effect on the growth disorder. In any case, more detailed preliminary investigations are required.

If growth disorders occur in children due to chronic diseases, their therapy can also compensate for the developmental disorder. For example, a targeted change in diet or dietary supplements can counteract the consequences of chronic malnutrition.

Due to the large number of possible causes and the different manifestations of growth disorders and last but not least due to the always individually shaped growth pattern of each child, the treatment of growth disorders in children should also be planned individually.


Growth disorders in children due to malnutrition or malnutrition can already be prevented by a healthy diet during pregnancy. The diet of the child is also important. However, hormonal and genetic growth disorders in children can hardly be prevented, since these factors are not subject to any external influence. Nevertheless, regular examinations by the pediatrician and the determination of the individual growth curve can help to identify growth disorders in children in good time.


Whether aftercare treatment is necessary for growth disorders in children depends on the causes and consequences of the growth disorder and its intensity. If there was only a slight growth disturbance that did not result in any secondary diseases, no follow-up treatment is necessary. If, on the other hand, the growth disorder is caused by insufficient endogenous production of growth hormones, the growth hormone levels in the blood must also be checked regularly in adulthood, since adults still produce growth hormones and the body needs them.

If a patient does not produce enough growth hormones even in adulthood, these must be supplied artificially using medication. In addition, regular checks of bone density and muscles should be carried out, since growth disorders in children increase the later risk of osteoporosis, malformations of the bones and bone diseases of all kinds as well as muscle diseases.

If a bone disease is detected, it must be treated separately. To prevent bone disease and other consequences of stunted growth, regular intake of calcium and magnesium as dietary supplements in addition to the daily diet can be helpful. This applies in particular if a small for gestational age, i.e. short growth, was already present at birth or if a calcium or magnesium deficiency was determined in combination with the growth disorder. If supplemental nutrient preparations are taken permanently in addition to food, the nutrient levels in the blood should also be checked regularly.

You can do that yourself

In the case of growth disorders in children, the focus is on therapy by a doctor. Nevertheless, parents can act in a supportive manner and take measures to help themselves.

As a rule, the situation is very stressful for the affected children and their entire families. They often even develop inferiority complexes or other psychological problems. Parents should be open and honest about the condition and answer any questions the child may have. The child should have access to all information. Depending on the specific cause of the growth disorder, both the affected children and their families can get help from self-help groups or in internet forums.

Due to the small body size, certain problems arise in children’s everyday life, for example when choosing clothing or opening doors. It is important to support the children as much as possible and to make everyday life easier for them. Nevertheless, those affected should not be patronized. Parents should give them specific household chores that they can do despite their disabilities. In general, the disease should be taken seriously, but not dominate the everyday life of the family. Regardless of the cause of the growth disorder, it is important for the affected children to eat a healthy and balanced diet.

Growth Disorders in Children