Short Stature

Short stature is a height that is less than or equal to the third percentile for a person's age, sex, and race. Short stature is generally broken down into three subgroups:

  • Causes

    Familial and constitutional delay are due to the child's genetic make-up. If both parents are shorter than average, the child will most likely have short stature. The child may also have delayed puberty. This may cause temporary short stature, but normal height will eventually be reached.

    Medical conditions that may contribute to short stature, include:

    • Malnourishment—most common cause of growth failure and is generally associated with poverty

    • Genetic disorders such as skeletal dysplasias,
      Turner syndrome
      Down syndrome
      , and Silver Russell syndrome

    • Endocrine disorders such as
      or growth hormone deficiency
    • Congenital heart disease
    • Kidney diseases
    • Liver failure
    • Sickle cell anemia
      —a blood disorder
    • Intrauterine growth retardation or small for gestational age

    • Disorders of the stomach or intestines such as
      inflammatory bowel disease

    • Lung conditions such as severe
      chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

    • Malabsorption due to
      cystic fibrosis
      or celiac disease
    • Use of SSRI medications—may be used to treat attention deficit disorder or obsessive compulsive disorder

  • Definition

    Short stature is a height that is less than or equal to the third percentile for a person's age, sex, and race.

    Short stature is generally broken down into three subgroups:

    • Familial short stature—parents are short
    • Constitutional delay and development—child is small for age but growing at normal rate, will reach an adult height similar to parents
    • Caused by chronic disease—such as malnutrition, genetic disorders, heart problems, and growth hormone deficiency
    Expected Growth (Shadow) and Short Stature
    Stunted Growth Child
    Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

  • Diagnosis

    You will be asked about your child's symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your child's height, weight, and body proportion will be measured. The skull and facial features will also be examined.

    Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with:

    • Blood tests
    • Urine tests

    Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done with x-ray.

    Your child may be tested for chromosomal abnormalities. This can be done with a genetic exam.

  • Prevention

    Short stature cannot be prevented in children who have a familial short stature or short stature from genetic conditions. However, short stature from chronic disease can be prevented by treating the condition. In some cases, you can minimize your child’s risk of developing short stature by encouraging a nutritious diet.

    Pregnant women can minimize the risk of short stature in their children by:

    • Eating a nutritious diet during pregnancy
    • Avoiding smoking
    • Avoiding illegal drugs

  • Risk Factors

    Factors that may increase the risk of short stature include:

    • Having family members with short stature
    • Poor diet
    • Certain diseases and drugs taken by a pregnant woman will increase risk to the newborn child

  • Symptoms

    Symptoms vary. Children with familial short stature do not have any disease-related symptoms. They will often reach a height similar to that of their parents.

    Children who have delayed puberty will often have a close relative with the same delay. These children will also eventually catch up to their peers in height.

    Symptoms that may indicate a medical condition include:

    • Stopped or dramatically slowed growth—below the third percentile as determined by your doctor
    • Weight loss or gain—more than five pounds in a month
    • Poor nutrition
    • Loss of appetite

    • Chronic abdominal pain and
    • Persistent fever
    • Chronic headaches and/or vomiting
    • Delayed puberty—no spotting by age 15 for a girl or no enlargement of the testes by age 14-15 for a boy

  • Treatment

    Children with familial short stature do not require treatment. For others, treatment will focus on the cause of short stature. Treatments can vary greatly, but may include medication or nutritional changes.