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Causes of Growth Disorders in Children


Growth disorders develop in children for many reasons. You may first notice something is wrong if your child’s clothes and shoes still fit the same from the year before. What you may not know is whether your child is experiencing normal growth for his or her gender and age.  

Before jumping to any conclusions, remember that some children are naturally short and will fall lower on the growth percentile chart than other children. In this case, there may be no cause for concern.

If their growth rate changes or plateaus, however, it’s important that you immediately consult with your pediatrician. This slow growth can be caused by genetics, environmental factors, a constitutional delay, hormonal factors or other medical issues. If there’s cause for concern, you can start taking the necessary steps to correct any potential issues.

Whether your child has a growth disorder right now or not, you can start learning about the potential causes to be sure you can recognize the signs as your child grows and develops.

What Is a Growth Disorder?

A growth disorder is an underlying issues, often related to another disease or disorder, that causes stunted growth. It prevents a child from growing properly, whether that be in height, weight, or a delay in puberty.

Some growth and development disorders are immediately recognizable at birth, and even during pregnancy. Children’s National explains that this is called intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), and occurs when there’s slow growth within the uterus, affecting the tissues where growth is supposed to occur.

However, Stanford Children’s Health explains that this is not always the case: “Many growth problems are noticed much later, when the child appears smaller than his or her classmates, or when growth appears to be insignificant over a period of a year.”

Stanford continues to explain that the primary sign of a potential growth disorder in children is if he or she grows less than two inches after his or her third birthday.

Causes of Growth Disorders

As you watch your child grow, remember that there are many potential causes of growth disorders, ranging from malnutrition to chronic diseases and hormonal disorders. Learn about each potential cause and remember to speak with your doctor if you’re concerned about a diagnosis.  

Systemic Diseases

These diseases affect the entire body and, as such, can cause growth disorders in children. Stanford Children’s suggests that these systemic diseases include chronic malnutrition, diseases of the digestive tract, kidney disease, heart disease, lung disease, and diabetes. Severe stress can also cause growth disorders.

Human Growth Foundation (HGF) explains that diseases affecting the kidneys, lungs and heart can lead to growth disorders as a result of poor intake of nutrients or “buildup of waste products and undesirable substances in the body.” Similarly, many digestive disorders can lead to malabsorption, which can then stunt your child’s growth.

Consult with your pediatrician if your child’s disorder is affecting how much they eat as well. For example, children with cystic fibrosis need more calories and fat than the average child, and without it, they might not grow properly.

More: The Cystic Fibrosis Diet: 10 High-Fat Snacks Your Child

Hormonal Disorders

According to HGF, Human Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD), Cushing’s Syndrome, and Hypothyroidism are common hormonal disorders that lead to stunted growth or growth disorders in children. Here’s what you need to know about each one.

GHD: This occurs when a child’s pituitary gland does not produce enough Human Growth Hormone. The most obvious sign that your child has GHD is a slowing of growth, according to the HGF. When diagnosed, physicians can help your child reach proper growth by administering treatment, like synthetic growth hormones.

Cushing's Syndrome: Your child may experience this syndrome because his or her body is creating too much cortisol. This can cause your child to grow in weight but not height. HGF suggests that symptoms of this syndrome include easy bruising, general weakness and muscular atrophy.

Hypothyroidism: When your child’s thyroid does not produce enough thyroid hormone, they may suffer from hypothyroidism. This can result in slow growth, along with a myriad of other symptoms, including weight gain, sluggishness, lethargy, and face swelling.

Non-Disease Causes of Growth Disorder

Your child’s growth disorder may not be caused by a disease or related disorder. Their short stature can be familial; if most people in your family are short stature, your child may naturally follow suit.

Picky eaters can also struggle with proper growth because, in many cases, they aren’t getting enough nutrients in their body. Encourage them to eat more with our ideas in 10 Ways to Make Sure Your Picky Eater Gets Nutrients.

Finally, your child may be diagnosed with Constitutional Growth Delay, which is the medical term for “late bloomer.” In this case, your pediatrician may recommend focusing on a well-rounded diet to ensure their nutrient intake is where it needs to be.

Causes of Growth Disorders in Children

There are many potential causes for your child’s slow growth, ranging from familial inheritance to systemic diseases. Always consult with your child’s pediatrician before moving forward with any treatment or dietary changes. The first step is to ensure there are no underlying causes that need to be treated. Then you can focus on healing your child.

The content in the Healthy Height Growth and Nutrition Guide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.