Author: Brian Jones, Clinical Pharmacist
The National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD) helps raise awareness about conditions many people have never encountered. Increased awareness for these conditions often leads to medical advancements and improved patient resources. One rare condition that has benefited from awareness and improved treatment options is growth hormone deficiency (GHD).
GHD is a rare condition affecting the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is a small part of your brain that controls several hormone glands throughout the body. If your pituitary gland is not working properly, your hormones may be thrown off. Hormones are important messengers that help control bodily functions. When hormones are out of balance it can affect everything from your emotions and physical growth to your eating and sleeping habits.
The pituitary gland doesn’t create enough growth hormone in people with GHD. Growth hormone is key for bones, muscles and body fat distribution. GHD is associated with a variety of symptoms, which may depend on how each specific case of GHD is classified.
Growth hormone deficiencies are classified as either congenital, acquired or idiopathic. Congenital GHD is seen in children and often caused by genetic mutations or other brain irregularities at birth. Acquired GHD can be linked to trauma, radiation, infection or tumor growth in the brain. If there is no known cause of GHD, it’s classified as idiopathic. Different tests can indicate whether someone has a growth hormone deficiency. If your physician suspects GHD, he or she may refer you to an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists are doctors who specialize in hormone-related conditions.
GHD in Children
While GHD is often present from birth, the signs and symptoms may not show until later. The first sign of GHD is typically slow growth compared with other children. As a child with GHD ages, you may notice he or she has a little extra chubbiness around the face or stomach. Many children with GHD look younger than their peers and will have delayed puberty or not go through puberty at all. With proper treatment, many children with GHD grow up to reach normal or near normal height, weight and development.
GHD in Adults
Many people associate hormones and growth with puberty and adolescence. However, your body needs growth hormones throughout your entire life. Adults needs growth hormones to help their bodies maintain muscles mass and strong bones. It’s less common but adults can also develop GHD. Signs of GHD in adults include a decrease in strength or muscle mass, low energy levels and difficulty concentrating. If left untreated, adult GHD can lead to higher cholesterol, osteoporosis or other complications.
Treatment for GHD typically includes growth hormone therapy in the form of daily injections. After a GHD diagnosis, the sooner you start treatment, the more effective it will be. Different levels of hormones are needed at different stages of life. Medication doses for GHD treatment will likely change over the years, especially for children. Growth hormone therapy is often at the highest dose during puberty. At Hy-Vee Pharmacy Solutions (HPS), our clinical pharmacists have experience with GHD and find the right dose for each individual treatment at every stage of child development. HPS works closely with doctors and patients to coordinate the most effective GHD management.
In some cases, children who are born with GHD will take growth hormones until they reach puberty. Sometimes as these children transition into adulthood, they will naturally start having normal hormone levels and no longer need treatment. If you think your child may not need GHD treatments as an adult, talk to your doctor or pharmacist.
Support for GHD
Growth hormone therapy is effective in many cases but lifestyle habits are important too. Eating a nutritious diet and getting enough sleep can support growth hormone injections and help ensure the best possible outcomes.
Although GHD is rare, there are numerous resources and support groups available. HPS patients can contact registered dietitian Megan Hall for diet and nutrition guidance. In addition to a registered dietitian, HPS offers patient education and resources to help connect you to a community of people who understand this rare condition. If you have questions specific to your growth hormone therapy or want more information about GHD, talk with your doctor or HPS pharmacist.