What causes growth retardation? 22 possible conditions

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What is Growth Retardation?

Growth retardation occurs when a fetus doesn’t develop at a normal rate. It is widely referred to as intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR). The term intrauterine growth retardation is also used.

Children with IUGR are much smaller than other children of the same gestational age. The term is also used for full-term babies who weigh less than 5 lbs., 8 oz. at birth.

There are two forms of growth retardation: symmetrical and asymmetrical. Children with symmetrical IUGR have a normally proportioned body. They are just smaller than most children of their gestational age. Children with asymmetrical IUGR have a normal sized head. However, their body is much smaller than it should be. On an ultrasound, their head appears to be much larger than their body.

How Do Children Develop Growth Retardation?

IUGR occurs for a number of reasons. There may be an inherited abnormality in the baby’s cells or tissues. The baby could be suffering from malnutrition or low oxygen intake. The mother may have problems with her own health.

IUGR can start at any stage of pregnancy. A number of factors increase IUGR risk. These factors are divided into three categories: maternal factors, fetal factors, and uterine/placental factors. Uterine/placental factors are also referred to as intrauterine factors. They include:

Maternal Factors

  • chronic diseases, such as chronic kidney disease, diabetes, heart disease, and respiratory disease
  • high blood pressure
  • malnutrition
  • anemia
  • certain infections
  • substance abuse
  • smoking

Fetal Factors

  • infection
  • birth defects
  • chromosome abnormalities
  • multiple gestation pregnancy

Intrauterine Factors

  • decreased uterine blood flow
  • decreased blood flow in the placenta
  • infections in the tissues around the fetus

A condition known as placenta previa can also cause IUGR. Placenta previa occurs when the placenta attaches low in the uterus.

Signs of Growth Retardation

You may not notice any signs that your baby has growth retardation. Most women are unaware of the condition until they are told during an ultrasound. Some do not find out until after giving birth.

Children born with IUGR are at higher risk of several complications, including:

  • low oxygen level
  • low blood sugar
  • too many red blood cells
  • failure to maintain a normal body temperature
  • low Apgar score—a measure of infant health at birth
  • problems feeding
  • neurological problems

Diagnosing Growth Retardation

IUGR is usually diagnosed during a standard screening ultrasound. Ultrasounds use sound waves to check the development of the baby and your uterus. If your baby is smaller than usual, the doctor may suspect IUGR.

A smaller than normal fetus may be no cause for concern in early pregnancy. Many women are unsure of their last menstrual period. Therefore, the baby’s gestational age may not be accurate. A baby may appear to be small when it is actually the correct size.

When IUGR is suspected in early pregnancy, your doctor will monitor the baby’s growth through regular ultrasounds. If the baby fails to grow properly, the doctor may diagnose IUGR.

An amniocentesis test may be suggested if the doctor suspects IUGR. For this test, the doctor will insert a long, hollow needle through your abdomen into the amniotic sac. Then the doctor takes a sample of the fluid. This sample is tested for signs of abnormalities.

Is Growth Retardation Treatable?

Depending on the cause, IUGR may be reversible.

Before offering treatment, your doctor may monitor the baby using:

  • ultrasound—to see how your baby’s organs are developing and check for normal movements
  • heart-rate monitoring—to be certain the baby’s heart rate increases as it moves
  • doppler flow studiesto make certain that the baby’s blood is flowing properly

Treatment will focus on addressing the underlying cause of IUGR. Depending on the cause, one of the following treatment options may be useful:

Increasing Your Nutrient Intake

This ensures that your baby is getting adequate food. If you have not been eating enough, your baby may not have enough nutrients to grow.

Bed Rest

You may be put on bed rest to help improve the baby’s circulation.

Induced Delivery

In severe cases, an early delivery may be necessary. This allows the doctors to intervene before damage caused by IUGR gets worse. Induced delivery is usually only necessary if the baby has stopped growing entirely or has serious medical problems. In general, doctors prefer to allow the baby to grow for as long as possible before delivery.

How Do I Keep My Baby from Developing Growth Retardation?

There are no known ways to prevent IUGR; however, there are ways to reduce your baby’s risk.

They include:

  • eating healthy foods
  • taking your prenatal vitamins (with folic acid)
  • avoiding unhealthy lifestyles (such as drug use, alcohol use, and cigarette smoking)

Complications from Growth Retardation

Children who have a severe form of IUGR may die in the womb or during birth. Children with a less severe form of IUGR may also have complications.

According to the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH), children with low birth weight have an increased risk of:

  • learning disabilities
  • delayed motor and social development
  • infections

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See a list of possible causes in order from the most common to the least.

1

Failure to Thrive

Your child may be diagnosed with failure to thrive if he or she falls below a healthy weight and shows signs of emotional underdevelopment. Typically, failure to thrive is discovered during a child's infant years. Idea...

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2

Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF)

Tetralogy of Fallot is a congenital heart defect that can be fatal if left untreated. Symptoms are present at birth and include bluish-colored skin, clubbed fingers, and developmental delays.

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3

Cerebral Palsy

Cerebral palsy is a disorder of muscle movement and coordination caused by an injury to a child's brain that occurs before birth or during infancy. It affects the part of the brain that controls body movement. Othe...

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4

Sickle Cell Anemia

Sickle cell anemia is a genetic disease that causes red blood cells to have an abnormal shape, causing blood flow problems. This can lead to tissue damage and pain, as well as enlarged spleen, anemia, and other symptoms.

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5

Thalassemia

Thalassemia is an inherited blood disorder that results in excessive destruction of red blood cells (anemia). Symptoms depend on its severity, and can range from minor anemia to enlargement of organs or fetal death.

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6

Ventricular Septal Defects

A ventral septal defect (VSD) is a hole between the heart's lower chambers (ventricles). It can lead to difficulty breathing and pale or bluish skin, especially around the lips and fingernails.

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7

Lactose Intolerance

Lactose intolerence occurs when a person's small intestine can't break down lactose, an enzyme found in dairy foods. The condition can cause many gastrointestinal symptoms.

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8

Down Syndrome

Down syndrome is a genetic abnormality that occurs due to an extra copy of chromosome 21. It causes lifelong developmental delays that can range from moderate to severe. It cannot be cured but can be managed wit...

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9

Cystic Fibrosis

Cystic fibrosis is a recessive genetic disorder that affects cells that produce mucous, sweat, and digestive juices. It may cause severe problems in the lungs, pancreas, liver, and intestine

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10

Celiac Disease (Gluten Intolerance)

Celiac disease is a digestive disorder caused by an immune reaction to gluten. Symptoms vary but can include arthritis, fatigue, and abdominal symptoms.

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11

Lead Poisoning

Lead poisoning is a serious and sometimes fatal condition. It occurs when lead builds up in the body. Lead is a highly toxic metal and a very strong poison. It is found in lead-based paints, including paint on the wall...

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12

Hirschsprung Disease

Hirschsprung disease is a blockage that occurs in the colon. It interferes with your child's ability to pass stool. According to the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, this condition is present in about on...

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13

Rickets

Rickets is a nutritional disorder that can develop if you do not get enough vitamin D, calcium, or phosphate. Rickets leads to poor functioning of a bone's growth plate (growing edge), softened and weakened bones...

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14

Fetal Alcohol Syndrome

Women who drink alcohol during pregnancy can give birth to babies with fetal alcohol spectrum disorders. These disorders range from mild to severe. They can be behavioral, physical, related to learning, or all of th...

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15

Hookworm Infections

Hookworms are parasites. This means they live off other living things. Hookworms affect your lungs and small intestine. Humans contract hookworms through roundworm eggs and larvae found in dirt contaminated by feces...

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16

Malabsorption Syndrome

Malabsorption syndrome refers to a number of disorders in which the intestine's ability to absorb certain nutrients, such as vitamin B12 and iron, into the bloodstream is negatively affected.Proteins, carbohydrates...

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17

Cleft Palate And Lip

Cleft palate and cleft lip, also referred to as orofacial defects, are birth defects that affect more than 7,000 babies in the United States every year, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

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18

Tay-Sachs Disease

Tay-Sachs is a disease of the central nervous system; it is a neurodegenerative disorder. Tay-Sachs most commonly affects infants. In infants, it is a progressive disease that is unfortunately always fatal. Rarely...

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19

Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is a condition that occurs when fluid builds up in the skull and causes the brain to swell. The name literally means "water on the brain." Brain damage can occur as a result of the fluid buildup. This ca...

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20

Achondrogenesis

Achondrogenesis is a rare and severe group of genetic disorders that results in a short trunk, small limbs, and a narrow chest. It occurs when a person's body does not produce enough growth hormone. As a result...

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This feature is for informational purposes only and should not be used to diagnose.
Please consult a healthcare professional if you have health concerns.
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