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Hormones Affecting Child Development

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Maintaining a healthy hormone balance is very important for a child’s growth and development. Read this article to know more about this topic.

Written by

Dr. Asna Fatma

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Published At September 20, 2022
Reviewed AtFebruary 14, 2023

What Are Hormones?

Hormones are signaling molecules that regulate the functioning of organs and tissues. Endocrine glands secrete hormones. They execute some of the body's vital functions. Major endocrine glands include:

  1. Hypothalamus.

  2. Pituitary gland.

  3. Thyroid gland.

  4. Parathyroid gland.

  5. Adrenal glands.

  6. Gonads (testes and ovaries).

  7. Pancreas.

Hormones are secreted by these endocrine glands into the blood and sometimes into extracellular fluids, which eventually reach the receptor present in various organs and tissues. These receptors respond to the hormonal signal and carry out their specific function.

Why Are Hormones Important?

Hormones are the primary component of the endocrine system that keeps the whole system going. Although these hormones are produced in a minimal amount, they perform significant functions. Therefore, a deficiency in the level of these hormones can cause severe problems in the body.

Some of the most common functions of the hormones include:

  • Regulating blood sugar levels using insulin.

  • Growth of reproductive organs during puberty and normal functioning of the reproductive organs during adulthood.

  • Overall growth and development of the body using thyroid hormones.

  • Hormones also play a vital role in male and female fertility.

How Do Hormones Affect Children?

Several hormones are essential for overall development, growth, and metabolism in children. The pituitary gland produces eight hormones that control growth, puberty, cortisol, and thyroid hormone production. The thyroid gland produces hormones essential for normal brain development, metabolism, and growth. Hormones are responsible for significant changes in the behaviors of children during adolescence.

Which Hormone Affects Childhood Development?

The main hormones concerned with a child’s growth and development are pituitary growth hormones, thyroid hormone, the sex hormone testosterone, and estrogen, and sex gland stimulating hormones (luteinizing and follicle-stimulating hormones). The thyroid gland produces thyroxine, triiodothyronine, and cortisol. These hormones regulate the proper functioning of the cells, especially in the brain. Apart from these, growth hormones are also responsible for the growth of bones, heights, etc. Testosterone secreted by interstitial cells of the testis is essential for puberty and the development of male genitalia. The female sex hormones, collectively known as estrogen, are secreted by ovary cells. These hormones are responsible for the growth of the uterus, vagina, and breasts. A deficiency in these hormones will lead to children's severe growth and developmental problems.

What Is Growth Hormone Deficiency?

A deficiency occurs when the body cannot produce enough growth hormone, leading to a child's poor and retarded growth rate. There are two kinds of growth hormone deficiency:

  1. Congenital Growth Hormone Deficiency: This is a growth hormone deficiency where the baby is born with this condition. The child will seem to be growing at an average pace until 6 to 12 months of age. An inborn deficiency of other hormones often accompanies this condition.

  2. Acquired Growth Hormone Deficiency: This growth hormone deficiency occurs when the body suddenly stops producing enough growth hormone. This condition is not congenital and can occur at any age during childhood.

What Are the Symptoms of Growth Hormone Deficiency?

If a child grows a lot slower than most kids of the same age, this condition is known as growth failure. One of the primary symptoms of growth failure is short stature. A shorter height in children can be easily seen and compared by parents and physicians. Often a retarded growth of height is the first alarming symptom. Other symptoms of growth hormone deficiency include:

  1. Delayed eruption of teeth.

  2. Muscle weakness.

  3. Delayed puberty.

  4. In boys, smaller than usual penis size at birth.

  5. Low blood sugar level.

How Is Growth Hormone Deficiency Diagnosed?

Clinical diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency in children can be easily made by seeing the physical signs and symptoms. However, multiple tests are done by a pediatric endocrinologist to confirm the case. These tests are:

  • Blood Tests: Growth hormone levels cannot be evaluated quickly as they are not secreted regularly but as a short burst, mostly overnight. Therefore, the doctors check the level of these two proteins that are more stable and a marker for normal growth hormone functions:

  1. Insulin-like growth factor I or IGF-I.

  2. Insulin-like growth factor-binding protein 3 or IGFBP-3.

  • X-rays to Determine Bone Age: This X-ray study will help the doctor evaluate the child’s skeletal system’s maturity. This imaging test is done by taking an X-ray of the left wrist, hand, and fingers. Then this X-ray is compared to an X-ray in the standard atlas of bone development. If the child’s bone age is a lot younger than the child’s actual age, this could be a sign of growth hormone deficiency.

  • Growth Hormone Stimulation Test: This test confirms growth hormone deficiency. The child is asked to fast overnight, and then the doctor will give the child a medication that will cause a burst of growth hormone. Blood samples are taken at different times to check the growth hormone peak.

  • Brain Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI): A brain magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) will check for any problems with the brain's pituitary gland that might be causing growth hormone deficiency in the child.

How Is Growth Hormone Deficiency Treated?

Treatment of growth hormone deficiency is the administration of growth hormone shots every day. Regular checking of growth and dosage changes are necessary while taking this treatment. Blood tests may also be done from time to time to see if the body is responding to the medication.

What Is Puberty?

Puberty is the time of life when the child transitions into adulthood. It may start from 8 to 13 years in girls and between 9 to 14 years in boys. Girls’ ovaries and boys’ testes begin to function at this age. Puberty occurs when the hypothalamus starts a hormone-releasing process that leads to increased sex hormones (estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys). Several physical changes are seen during puberty; these changes are:

  • Breast development and secondary sexual features development in girls.

  • The onset of menstruation in girls.

  • Growth of penis and testicles in boys.

  • Facial hair growth and lower voice in boys.

  • Growth spurts of bones and muscles lead to a rapid increase in height in boys and girls.

  • Changes in body shape and size in both genders.

What Are the Different Puberty Problems?

The following are the various problems occurring in puberty due to hormonal imbalance:

  1. Delayed Puberty: It is a condition in which puberty happens late. This means the child’s sexual and physical changes are not seen by 13 in girls and 14 in boys. Girls might not experience menstrual cycles until the age of 16. These children are also called “late bloomers.” The most common cause of delayed puberty is hormonal imbalance and underlying systemic disease.

  2. Precocious Puberty: The appearance of sexual features at a young age is known as precocious puberty. In this condition, puberty starts before eight years in girls and nine years in boys. The most common cause of precocious puberty is hormonal imbalance.

  3. Premature Adrenarche: It is characterized by an early appearance of acne, pubic hair, and adult body odor in girls and boys. The most common cause of premature adrenarche is an increased secretion of weak androgen from adrenal glands. This may be a sign of hormonal imbalance.

What Are the Treatments of Different Puberty Problems?

The treatment modalities for these puberty problems are determined by their underlying cause. In the case of early puberty, the doctor may consider giving drugs to delay puberty until its regular time. Children suffering from “late bloomers” growth patterns and delayed puberty do not require specific treatment. This condition is regulated on its own. However, if puberty is delayed as a result of the inability of the body to produce the needed hormones, hormone replacement therapy is given to the child.

Conclusion:

Hormones play a crucial role in childhood development and growth. Any imbalance in hormone levels can lead to multiple growth problems. If growth hormone deficiency is diagnosed early and proper treatment is given, it can prevent child growth, development, and puberty problems. However, if left untreated, hormone deficiency and imbalance can cause multiple systemic and psychological problems. It has been studied that children with imbalanced hormones show certain behavioral changes, including anxiety, attention-seeking issues, depression, somatic complaints, etc. It is very important to provide the child with psychological support and therapy along with standard medications and hormone therapies.

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Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar
Dr. Kaushal Bhavsar

Pulmonology (Asthma Doctors)

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