From the moment we are born, our body produces many different types of hormones. They are the body’s chemical messengers and are produced by the endocrine system. Hormones play an important role in the regulation of growth and development, which are crucial processes in the body. They travel through the blood and other tissue fluids to target specific groups of cells or tissues to deliver their messages and exert their effects. If there are inadequate amounts of hormones produced or released by the body, your child may have problems with growth and development.
Our master gland, also called the pituitary gland, produces a variety of hormones. The pituitary gland releases as many as eight different hormones, including those that control growth, puberty, cortisol production, and the production of thyroid hormone. When the pituitary gland is not producing enough hormones, a child may experience hypopituitarism.
Growth Hormone Deficiency in Children
Growth hormone deficiency is a disorder that results in short stature, growth retardation, and physical maturation delays. Under normal circumstances, the following is how much a child should grow according to their age:
- 0–12 months: about 10 inches a year
- 1–2 years: about 5 inches a year
- 2–3 years: about 3 1/2 inches a year
- 3 years to puberty: about 2 to 2 1/2 inches a year
- Puberty: 3 to 5 inches a year
If there is damage to the pituitary gland, growth hormone deficiency can occur. This condition can occur pre- or post-birth. In many cases, the deficiency is idiopathic, which means there is no identifiable cause.
Deficiencies in growth hormones can be difficult to detect since growth in children take place over years and each child matures at a different rate. However, there are visible signs that are indicative of a growth hormone issue, such as:
- Noticeable slow growth with normal body proportions
- An immature appearance compared to peers
- Chubbiness in body build
- Prominent forehead
- A young face
- Underdeveloped bridge of the nose
If your child is not growing at a normal rate or you are seeing any worrisome signs, consult your pediatrician to determine if your child should be referred to an endocrinologist to evaluate their growth.
Growth hormone deficiency can be treated with growth hormone injections. The earlier the growth hormone deficiency is diagnosed and treatment starts, the greater the chance the patient has of achieving normal height.
How Does the Thyroid Gland Work?
Located in the neck, the thyroid gland has a shape that resembles a bowtie. The thyroid is an essential part of the endocrine system for kids because it produces hormones that are important for growth and brain development, particularly in babies. It also helps children to stay alert and maintain healthy levels of energy.
Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid. The most common cause of hypothyroidism in children is an autoimmune disease known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which is when the immune system attacks the thyroid. This prevents the thyroid from making enough thyroid hormone. The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism are hair loss, dry skin, constipation, and cold intolerance. Some may also experience sluggishness, depression, poor memory, or trouble concentrating, facial puffiness, weight gain, slowed growth and development.
On the contrary, hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid is overactive. Occasionally, the thyroid gland grows and forms a bulge in the neck called a goiter. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include weight loss, a fast heartbeat, trouble sleeping, anxiety, irritability, increased sweating, and bulging eyes (exophthalmos). The most common form is known as Grave’s Disease (an autoimmune condition), which happens when the body produces antibodies that make the thyroid gland overactive.
The Importance of the Adrenal Glands
The adrenal glands are crucial when it comes to warning the body in times of trouble and is best known for making the “fight or flight” hormone adrenaline (also called epinephrine). The adrenal glands also make hormones called corticosteroids.
Puberty Hormones: Stages for Girls & Boys
The pituitary gland produces two hormones called luteinizing hormone (LH) and follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH), that signal the testes or ovaries. For girls, the ovaries produce estrogen and progesterone, which help develop breasts at puberty, regulate the menstrual cycle, and support a pregnancy. For boys, the testes make testosterone, which helps them grow facial and body hair at puberty. For females, pubertal changes begin between the ages of 8 and 14 13. For males, pubertal changes begin between the age 9 and 14. If these changes happen before the age of 8 for girls and age 9 for boys, they are considered early or precocious.
Helping Your Child Through Their Adolescence
Your child’s body performs the great task of ensuring that hormones are released in the right amounts and at the right moments. If there’s a problem with any glands that release hormones, your child’s body will show signs. If hormones are not released properly or are produced in excess, symptoms like growth problems, obesity, fatigue, high blood pressure, and pubertal issues may develop. At times, it might be easy to tell that there is a problem with a child’s hormonal system, but at other times it may be more difficult to detect.
This is why it is so important to see your pediatrician at least once a year for older children and more frequently for younger children. Your pediatrician can ensure that a child is growing and developing properly, and help parents understand the importance of hormones.
Dr. Miladys Palau-Collazo is a proud member of the TopLine MD Alliance practicing Pediatric Endocrinology in St. Lucie County.
The TopLine MD Alliance is an association of independent physicians and medical practice groups who are committed to providing a higher standard of healthcare services. The members of the TopLine MD Alliance have no legal or financial relationship with one another. The TopLine MD Alliance brand has no formal corporate, financial or legal ties to any of the affiliated physicians or practice groups.