Some children may be abnormally tall for their age from an early, rapid development of puberty or from an excess production of the growth hormone by the pituitary gland. These and other more rare conditions can stimulate growth, particularly of the jaw and the long bones of the arms and legs. Most of these conditions can be treated.
Early Growth Spurts & Precocious Puberty
Generally, growth spurts for girls start about two years earlier than growth spurts for boys. Children with precocious puberty experience early growth spurts because of the abnormally early rise in sex hormone levels in their bodies. Initially this causes these children to grow taller than other kids their age, but their skeletons mature more rapidly. Often this causes them to stop growing at an early age, and they end up being average or below average height as adults.
Too Much Growth Hormone (Hyperpituitarism)
Two conditions arise from excessive amounts of growth hormone in the body: acromegaly and gigantism.
- Acromegaly is a condition in adults that is caused by an increased secretion of the growth hormone after normal growth has stopped. It is very rare. Because adults cannot grow taller, the excess growth hormone in acromegaly causes an adult's bones to thicken and other structures and organs to grow larger.
- Gigantism occurs when there is an excessive secretion of growth hormone in children before their normal growth has stopped. This results in overgrowth of the long bones. In addition to vertical growth in height, there is also growth in muscle and organs. The result is a person who is very tall, with a large jaw, large face, large skull, and very large hands and feet.
If You Have Concerns about Your Child's Height
If you are concerned about your child's height or think that your child may be growing too fast, talk to your pediatrician. If needed, your pediatrician can order further tests. A simple x-ray of the hand and wrist may show how much growth your child has left. Lab tests can also help find the cause of growth problems and how to treat them. You may also be referred to a pediatric endocrinologist, pediatric geneticist, or other pediatric specialist for further evaluation and treatment.