Growth hormone deficiency (GHD)

What is Growth Hormone Deficiency?

Growth Hormone Deficiency is a disorder resulting from lower levels of growth hormone than normal. Growth hormone is produced by the pituitary gland, if there are problems with the pituitary gland it can affect release of human growth hormone.

Growth Hormone Deficiency can be present from birth but can also occur later in life (adult-onset). Each year, childhood-onset Growth Hormone Deficiency affects about 1 in every 30,000 children, while adult-onset Growth Hormone Deficiency affects 1.2 in every 100,000 adults.

Children with Growth Hormone Deficiency are typically shorter, chubbier and may appear younger than other children their age. The impact of Growth hormone Deficiency varies between different children but can be minimised with early identification and support.

Hear advice from other parents whose children are also short in stature, compared with others their age.

What causes Growth Hormone Deficiency?

Growth Hormone Deficiency has many different causes. When Growth Hormone Deficiency is present from birth it is often caused by a genetic mutation. A genetic mutation is a change in your gene that can be caused by all kind of factors and often happens spontaneously. Growth Hormone Deficiency can be acquired later in life as a result of an injury, infection or medical condition such as a brain tumour. However, in many cases of child-onset Growth Hormone Deficiency, the cause is unknown.

What are the symptoms of Growth Hormone Deficiency?

The first sign of GHD is that children are shorter than expected for their age. GHD can occur at any time from birth, and sometimes isn’t diagnosed until adulthood. New born babies may have hypoglycaemia and/or prolonged jaundice, as well as a traumatic delivery. Children may have particularly small hands and feet, and more fat on the chest and tummy. Growth hormone is also crucial for bone development and healthy muscles, so this may also be impacted in children with GHD.


The symptoms of Growth Hormone Deficiency vary depending on age, severity and age of onset.

Common symptoms in babies:

  • Hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar)
  • Prolonged jaundice (yellowing of the skin and/or eyes)
  • Small penis in males
  • Short stature

Common symptoms in children

  • Small hands and feet
  • Younger appearance
  • High-pitched voice
  • Low muscle mass
  • Fat accumulation around the stomach
  • Delayed onset of puberty
  • Delayed bone age
  • Lack of appetite
  • Fatigue
  • Lack of focus or concentration
  • Disrupted sleep
  • Short stature

The most common symptom of Growth Hormone Deficiency is short stature and in some cases, it is the only sign of the condition.

If your child is short in stature, keeping track of their growth can help identify if there is a problem early on. Compare your child’s measurements to the national average to see if they are within a healthy range.

Calculate your child’s growth

It is important to keep track of your child’s growth in order to identify if there is a problem early on. We recommend measuring your child every 6 months, which is now easier, with our simple to use growth calculator.

How is Growth Hormone Deficiency diagnosed?

Unfortunately, it can be difficult to diagnose Growth Hormone Deficiency as it can be easily mistaken for other common conditions that cause short stature.

If your doctor suspects your child to have Growth Hormone Deficiency, they will likely perform blood tests which measure the levels of growth hormone-related hormones, such as IGF-1 (insulin-like growth factor 1) and IGFBP-3 (IGF binding protein 3). Another common test your doctor may perform is to assess your child’s bone age through a wrist X-ray.

Your doctor may recommend your child undergoes a brain scan to determine if there are any structural difference in their pituitary gland. To determine if your child has a known genetic mutation associated with Growth Hormone Deficiency, your doctor may recommend genetic testing using a sample of your child’s blood.

It is important you speak to your doctor if you have any concerns about your child’s height. Use this helpful guide on what questions to ask and what to expect from your visit.


Does Growth Hormone Deficiency run in families?

Growth Hormone Deficiency can have a genetic cause, which means that more than one person in the same family could have it. Your doctor will likely recommend genetic testing for known mutations associated with Growth Hormone Deficiency if there is a family history of the condition.

Does Growth Hormone Deficiency affect brain development?

Children with Growth Hormone Deficiency often have a normal IQ; however, Growth Hormone Deficiency has been found to affect brain structure and functioning. This may manifest as difficulty concentrating and staying focused whilst doing schoolwork. These effects on brain functioning is likely reversible with appropriate management.

Does Growth Hormone Deficiency affect your mood?

Children with Growth Hormone Deficiency can feel worried about their height and looking different to others their age. Understandably this can affect their self-confidence and lead to feelings of frustration. Issues with sleep, low energy levels and low muscle mass can limit their performance in sports and other activities which can lead to social isolation. But, support from friends and family can make a big difference to emotional wellbeing.