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 3 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
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Familial and constitutional delays are caused by a child's genes.
Health problems that may lead to short stature are:
- Malnourishment (common)
- Problems with genes, such as Down syndrome
- Endocrine problems, such as hypothyroidism
- Heart problems at birth
- Kidney problems
- Liver failure
- Sickle cell anemia
- Intrauterine growth retardation or small for gestational age
- Problems of the stomach or intestines, such as inflammatory bowel disease
- Lung problems, such as severe asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
- Not absorbing food well due to cystic fibrosis or celiac disease
- Certain medicines, such as long-term use of steroids
- Radiation therapy for cancer
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 differ from child to child. Problems may be:
- Stopped or very slowed growth
- Weight loss or gain—more than 5 pounds in a month
- Lack of hunger
- Belly pain and diarrhea
- 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
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.
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
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
Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics
The MAGIC Foundation
Little People of British Columbia: Society for Short Stature Awareness
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: 5/11/2021