Carl R. Darnall Army Medical Center - Health Library

Short Stature

Definition

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

It is broken down into three subgroups:

  • Familial short stature—parents are short
  • Constitutional delay —child is small for age but growing at normal rate, will reach an adult height like his or her parents
  • Caused by health problems—such as not eating the right things, gene problems, heart problems, and lack of hormones that help with growth

Expected Growth (Shadow) and Short Stature
Stunted Growth Child

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Causes ^

Familial and constitutional delays are due to the child's genes. If both parents are shorter than normal, the child will most likely have short stature. The child may also have delayed puberty. This may cause brief short stature. Normal height will be reached in time.

Health problems that may lead to short stature are:

Risk Factors ^

Things that may raise your child's chance of short stature are:

  • Having people in your family who have short stature
  • Not eating healthy foods
  • Certain health problems in a pregnant woman will raise the risk to the newborn child
  • Certain drugs taken by a pregnant woman will raise risk to the newborn child

Symptoms ^

Symptoms differ from child to child. Children with familial short stature may not have any. They will often reach a height that is like their parents.

Children who have delayed puberty will often have a close person in the family with the same problem. These children will also catch up to their peers in time.

Your child may have a health problem if he or she has:

  • Stopped or or very slowed growth
  • Weight loss or gain—more than five pounds in a month
  • Lack of hunger
  • Loss of appetite
  • Belly pain and diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headaches and vomiting
  • Delayed puberty—no spotting by age 15 years for a girl or no enlargement of the testes by age 14-15 years for a boy

Diagnosis ^

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

Blood and urine tests may be done.

Pictures may be taken of your child's bodily structures. This can be done withx-rays.

Genetic tests may be done.

Treatment ^

Children with familial short stature do not need to be treated. For others, the doctor will focus on the cause of short stature. Treatments can differ greatly. Medicine or nutrition changes may be needed.

Medications

Your child may be given:

  • Thyroid hormone replacement—may be used in children with hypothyroidism
  • Growth hormone replacement—may be used in some children such as those with Prader-Willi syndrome and Turner syndrome

If a medicine is causing short stature, you may be told to stop taking it. Make sure to talk to your doctor before stopping any medicine.

Nutrition Changes

Not eating the right foods can lead to short stature. It may be due to a lack of proper food or other health problems. In either case, a change in diet may help. Talk to your doctor or dietitian to help make changes.

Prevention ^

Short stature can’t be prevented in children who have a familial short stature or short stature from genetic problems. Short stature from health problems can be prevented by treating the problem causing it. In some cases, you can lower your child’s risk of getting short stature by having your child eat healthy foods.

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

  • Eating healthy foods
  • Not smoking
  • Not using illegal drugs
RESOURCES:

Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
http://www.healthychildren.org

The MAGIC Foundation
http://www.magicfoundation.org

CANADIAN RESOURCES:

HealthLink BC
http://www.healthlinkbc.ca

Little People of British Columbia: Society for Short Stature Awareness
http://www.littlepeopleofbc.org

REFERENCES:

Short stature in children—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at:http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115198/Short-stature-in-children-approach-to-the-patient#Pathogenesis. Updated July 17, 2017. Accessed July 3, 2018.

When a child is unusually short. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: https://www.healthychildren.org/English/health-issues/conditions/Glands-Growth-Disorders/Pages/When-a-Child-is-Unusually-Short.aspx. Updated June 21, 2016. Accessed July 3, 2018

Last reviewed June 2018 by Kari Kassir, MD  Last Updated: 7/3/2018