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.

There are three types:

  • Familial short stature—parents are short
  • Constitutional delay —child is small for his or her age but growing at normal rate and 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 caused by a child's genes.

Health problems that may lead to short stature are:

Risk Factors

Things that may raise a child's risk of this problem are:

  • Having other family members who have short stature
  • Not eating healthy foods
  • Certain health problems in the mother during pregnancy
  • Having a mother who took certain drugs during pregnancy

Symptoms

Symptoms differ from child to child. Problems may be:

  • Stopped or very slowed growth
  • Weight loss or gain—more than five pounds in a month
  • Lack of hunger
  • Belly pain and diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Headaches and vomiting
  • Delayed puberty—no periods by age 15 years for a girl or no enlargement of the testes by age 14 to 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. This may include genetic tests.

Pictures may be taken of your child's body. This can be done with x-rays.

Treatment

Children with familial short stature do not need to be treated.

The cause of short stature in other children will need to be treated. Choices are:

  • Stopping or changing medicines that may be causing short stature
  • Taking medicines to replace missing hormones that help with growth
  • Lifestyle changes, such as eating a healthy diet

Prevention

There are no known guidelines to prevent short stature in children who have familial short stature or short stature from genetic problems.

The risk of short stature in others may be lowered by:

  • Eating a healthful diet
  • Managing health problems
  • Getting proper prenatal care when pregnant
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:

Barstow C, Rerucha C. Evaluation of Short and Tall Stature in Children. Am Fam Physician. 2015 Jul 1;92(1):43-50.

Short stature in children—approach to the patient. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: https://www.dynamed.com/approach-to/short-stature-in-children-approach-to-the-patient. Accessed November 5, 2020.

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. Accessed November 5, 2020.

Last reviewed September 2020 by EBSCO Medical Review Board Kari Kassir, MD  Last Updated: 11/5/2020