Pediatric Early & Precocious Puberty

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It is common for children to encounter and manage an array of physical, emotional, and sexual milestones, as they get older. Most follow a normal developmental timeline, such as when pubescent symptoms begin. Some, however, may receive a diagnosis of early precocious puberty and find themselves faced with physical, emotional, and social challenges at an earlier age than their peers. Seeking the guidance of a pediatric endocrinologist with familiarity treating such a condition may offer these children and their families the answers for managing or even stopping symptoms.

What Is Precocious Puberty?

This childhood condition generally refers to the premature secretion of sex hormones in boys and girls. The pituitary gland is usually responsible for triggering the release of estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys. The early release of such hormones causes certain physical and sexual characteristics to appear before the average child typically experiences them, such as the growth of pubic hair, breast development, and the maturation of the reproductive system. Causes cannot usually be determined, but some cases have been linked to certain brain abnormalities or hormonal disorders.

Common Symptoms

Symptoms in girls generally show up before the age of 8 and may include the arrival of menstruation and breast development. Boys often receive a diagnosis of early precocious puberty if symptoms show up before the age of 9. Boys generally experience a deeper voice, facial hair, and the premature growth of male genitals. Both genders may develop adult-like body odor problems, acne, and pubic hair, and may experience a faster rate of growth overall.

Risks of the Condition

Reaching physical sexual maturation at such an early age can have a range of effects on children. Noticeable changes, such as facial hair or breast development, may cause some children to feel isolated from their peers. This could lead to feelings of self-consciousness, low self-esteem, or even depression. Research suggests that girls, in particular, may suffer from psychological effects if they are not provided the coping skills to manage their feelings about growing so much faster than other children grow their age.

What is the Treatment?

Once the condition is diagnosed, treatment generally involves the slowing, stopping, or possibly reversing symptoms of the early onset of puberty. If no underlying medical conditions exist, some children may be able to undergo routine injections that might slow down the onset of symptoms until a more appropriate age. On the other hand, if the puberty was triggered by a brain anomaly or other physical condition, addressing that problem could result in the cessation of premature growth and development.

The Bottom Line

Children afflicted with the early onset of puberty are not without hope. Treatment may be able to slow down premature changes, and a healthy understanding of the condition by family, friends, and other members of the community could play a role in the promotion of emotional and psychological well-being for the child coping with such circumstances. Some adults may be tempted to have higher-than-normal expectations for a child who appears to be older than her actual age, causing unnecessary and unfair pressure for the child. A positive, age-appropriate relationship with the child and supportive environments may prove more beneficial as part of the overall treatment plan for a safe and healthy upbringing.