It’s totally normal to have concerns about starting treatment for a child with growth hormone deficiency (GHD). GHD therapy involves injecting growth hormone into your child every day for years. The thought of this may have you worried that you’re hurting your child.
Though you might want to delay treatment until your child is bit older, research shows early treatment of GHD has many important health benefits that go above and beyond reaching a desired height.
Read on to learn more about the benefits of early treatment for GHD.
1. Greater chances of reaching a normal adult height
Reaching a normal adult height is considered the main goal of GHD treatment. A child with GHD doesn’t have enough growth hormone to develop at a normal rate. Treatment is necessary to reach their full growth potential.
Research shows that children who begin treatment earlier have a higher chance of reaching a normal height.
For example, a recent study of children with GHD found that those who started treatment early had a significantly better long-term growth outcome compared to children who started treatment later on. For this study, early treatment was defined as under 8 years of age for girls and under 9 years for boys.
2. Better bone density
Some research suggests that children with GHD have reduced bone mineral density. This means that the bones may be weak and more prone to fractures. Reduced bone mineral density can eventually lead to a bone disease called osteoporosis.
Treating GHD earlier may improve bone mineral density, according to an older study published in The Journal of Clinical Endocrinology & Metabolism. The study authors suggest that GHD treatment should continue until peak bone mass is achieved, even if a normal height is already reached. Research on this association is ongoing.
3. Improved self-esteem
Many children and teenagers with GHD have low self-esteem or may be shy due to their short stature or a slow rate of maturing. Young women may not form breasts as early as their peers. For boys, their voices may not change at the same pace as their friends. This can lead to social isolation and bullying. This can also hinder your child’s development of mature social skills. Because your child is small, friends and teachers may treat your child as younger than they really are.
In one study, children who started their GHD treatment after the age of 12 were more likely to complain of difficulties with self-confidence and social interactions.
With early treatment of GHD, children will likely have an improvement in self-confidence, which can help with social interactions with peers.
4. Better performance at school
Some research has suggested a link between growth hormone and brain function. Academic achievement varies in children with GHD, but they do tend to have an increased risk for school issues.
A 2015 study found that once treatment for GHD is started, cognitive performance improves.
5. Improvements in lean body mass
Children with GHD usually have higher levels of body fat and decreased lean body mass. They often have rounder faces and may be chubby or have “baby fat” around their belly.
Belly fat is associated with high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease later in life.
With treatment, a child’s body fat percentage can return to normal ranges.
6. More energy
Children with low growth hormone levels may feel sluggish and lack energy. One symptom of GHD is decreased muscle tone and strength. A child with decreased muscle tone may get tired quickly when running around or playing.
Parents report that when their infants and toddlers start treatment with growth hormones, they seem to be more alert and energetic. They lose body fat and also have an increase in appetite once treatment begins.
Treatment options for GHD
Recombinant human growth hormone (r-hGH) is the main treatment option for GHD and other conditions that cause short stature. Over the last 30 years, there has been a huge increase in the worldwide availability of synthetic growth hormones.
Growth hormone is only available by prescription. It’s given by daily injection into the fatty tissues, like the thighs or buttocks. It can be done at home after training from your doctor.
With early detection and treatment, a child with GHD can often reach a normal height. It’s generally recommended that treatment start as soon as possible after a diagnosis.
Early treatment of GHD can mean:
- a greater chance of reaching a normal adult height
- improvements in school performance
- less emotional anxiety and better self-esteem
- more energy
- improvements in lean body mass and body fat
- better bone density
If you still have questions about the risks and benefits of treating GHD, talk to your doctor.