Properly caring for your child’s health is likely a top concern as a parent. That’s why, when a health issue comes up, you want to be prepared with the right information and experts that can help you. This is critical for parents of children with central precocious puberty (CPP).
During puberty, girls begin to develop breasts, have their first period, and mature outwardly. For boys, the testes and penis begin to grow and mature. Also, their voice may change and facial hair begins growing.
CPP occurs when children reach puberty at an unusually young age. For girls, that is before age 8. For boys, that is before age 9.
If you suspect your child has started showing signs of puberty earlier than anticipated, you’ll first want to quickly consult your child’s regular pediatrician. Treatment depends on a timely diagnosis.
If your child does have CPP, you’ll need a healthcare team that is qualified and capable of managing and treating this condition. The goal of treatment for CPP is to stop the onset of changes and reverse them as much as possible.
Here are the professionals you should consider adding to your child’s CPP healthcare team.
Sex and gender exist on spectrums for adults and children. This article will use the terms “girl” and “boy” to refer to a person’s sex assigned at birth. Your child’s gender identity may not align with how CPP affects their body.
If you believe your child is prematurely showing signs of puberty, you will want to speak with their primary healthcare professional. That is likely to be a pediatrician or a family doctor. This professional can then help you build out the rest of the team.
Once you start the conversation with your child’s pediatrician, they can begin initial tests. They are likely to conduct a physical exam to identify possible causes for the signs and symptoms your child is showing.
Some pediatricians are familiar with CPP and feel confident in their ability to treat the condition. In that case, the majority of care for your child will be facilitated by the pediatrician.
Other pediatricians may refer you to specialists. These experts have special training that could align better with your child’s needs. They should be experienced in treating CPP.
The body’s endocrine system makes and regulates hormones. This includes the hormones that trigger sexual and physical development during puberty.
An endocrinologist is a doctor who specializes in disorders related to growth and hormones. A pediatric endocrinologist treats children. They are trained in how hormones affect children specifically.
This doctor will examine how your child’s body makes hormones. They will look for underlying issues that might have triggered the early onset of hormonal changes.
In addition to a physical exam, they are likely to request a number of blood tests and imaging studies. Imaging studies used to evaluate CPP include CT scans, MRI scans, pelvic ultrasounds, and X-rays.
You will want a pediatric endocrinologist who:
- has experience with precocious puberty
- is taking new patients
- accepts your insurance plan
- has hospital affiliations in your insurance’s network
- has appropriate board certifications
- is a good communicator and gets back to you with information within a reasonable time frame
- has appropriate bedside manner with your child
If your female child develops signs of CPP, consider consulting with a gynecologist. Other doctors on the care team may suggest this, but you can also ask if this is a good idea during an appointment.
Gynecologists can help you and the other members of the care team understand the extent of physical maturity that may have already occurred. They can also advise you on the effects of treatment and when the best time to end treatment might be.
Some gynecologists have experience working with younger patients. Ask your pediatrician or pediatric endocrinologist to make a referral.
Most children with CPP will be treated with a medication called a GnRH agonist. This treatment usually comes in the form of monthly injections, but some newer treatment options are administered less frequently.
Your child’s pediatrician or endocrinologist will write a prescription for the treatment they think your child should use. They may consult with your child’s pharmacist if there are concerns about interactions with other medications.
Once you have the treatment, your pharmacist can be a good resource for questions about dosing. They can help you understand how to use the injector. They can also help you understand potential side effects.
Children often feel pressure to “fit in” with their peers. A condition like CPP that affects a child’s outward appearance can make that difficult.
As a result, your child may face emotional and social problems. That’s why mental health professionals should be part of your child’s care team, too.
Psychologists and psychiatrists specialize in mental health treatment. Some receive additional training to work specifically with children and adolescents.
A therapist might use a behavioral approach to help your child learn to cope and overcome issues.
In some U.S. states, a therapist does not need any formal training. The same is true for a licensed professional counselor. Be sure to understand their background and certifications.
Mental health professionals can help children face the challenges early puberty may bring. They may also help your child avoid issues that may result from these early changes. This includes anxiety, depression, and substance use.
If you notice your child is showing signs of early puberty — before age 8 for girls and age 9 for boys — bring it up to your child’s doctor. They can help you determine whether your child has central precocious puberty (CPP).
If your child does have CPP, work with your child’s pediatrician to build your healthcare team. Besides a pediatrician, that team might include a pediatric endocrinologist, gynecologist, pharmacist, and mental health professional.