The pituitary gland produces growth hormones and releases them in bursts every three to five hours. The body normally regulates the amount which is produced and released. However, it’s possible for too much to be produced. Growth hormones are essential to promoting proper development in children, but what happens when there is too much growth hormone in a child?
Too Much Growth Hormone in a Child: Causes and Effects
Growth hormones are important influences on a child’s height and development. While many children are shorter or taller than others due to genetics, some children may have a growth disorder.
Growth disorders affect the speed at which a child develops. Height, weight, and sexual development are just a few features which can be affected. Diseases or problems with the pituitary gland are the leading causes of growth disorders.
The pituitary gland is responsible for producing growth hormones. Too few can lead to poor growth in children, while too many can lead to a condition called gigantism.
Symptoms of Gigantism
Gigantism is a rare condition that usually occurs when a tumor grows on the pituitary gland, affecting the amount of growth hormones in a child. As a result, the child’s body and organs grow extremely large for their age.
Excessive growth hormone symptoms are usually slow to form. Symptoms can be difficult to notice because children can develop in spurts or at different rates than their peers.
Symptoms of too much growth hormone in a child include:
- Difficulty with peripheral vision
- Very prominent forehead and jaw
- Thickening facial features
- Gaps between the teeth
- Increased sweating
- In girls, irregular menstruation
- In girls, release of breast milk
- Large hands and feet
- Thick fingers and toes
- Sleep problems
- Changes in voice
It’s important to treat gigantism because a child may experience delayed puberty, or their genitals may not fully develop.
Your doctor will be able to confirm whether a growth disorder is present through a combination of blood tests, CT or MRI, and study of serial photographs (photographs taken over the course of several years).
Treatment can stop or slow growth hormones from causing your child to grow larger than normal.
Treatment for Excessive Growth Hormones in a Child
Stopping or slowing the production of growth hormones is not easy. Your doctor may need to use a combination of techniques to effectively treat your child.
- Surgery: Surgery is usually the first choice to remove a pituitary tumor. However, it’s not an option for all cases, such as those where the tumor is too large or too close to a blood vessel or nerve. Sometimes, surgery can only remove part of the tumor, while the other part is treated with drug or radiation therapy.
- Medication: Drug therapy is another option which shrinks the tumor over time by using medication. Medication can also be used when surgery cannot completely remove a tumor.
- Gamma knife radiosurgery: If surgery isn’t possible, gamma knife radiosurgery may be an option. A ‘gamma knife’ is a collection of precise radiation beams that are aimed directly at the tumor without damaging any surrounding tissue. This type of treatment can take several years to be effective.
- Radiation therapy: Radiation therapy is often used in conjunction with surgery if a tumor cannot be fully removed.
Treating excess growth hormones in children is essential to ensuring that they live a long and healthy life.