Using Growth Hormone to Treat Short Stature in Children

Boy stands next to ruler on wall to measure height
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It is natural to be concerned when a child seems substantially shorter than other kids their age. And in rare cases, short stature can be something to worry about, particularly if a child's rate of growth slows down suddenly for no apparent reason, or they seem to stop growing altogether.

In some circumstances, parents may decide to treat a short child with growth hormone therapy. This long-term treatment stimulates growth in children who have a specific hormonal deficiency or a health condition that prevents normal growth. 

Causes of Short Stature

If a young boy is in the fifth percentile for his height (meaning that 95% of boys his age are taller than he is), that is not considered a problem in and of itself. If, however, he goes from the fifth to the first percentile, the reasons should be investigated.

A genetic disorder, underactive thyroid gland, or some other medical condition could cause sudden and drastic changes in growth. However, it is more common that a child who's lagging behind their peers in height has a condition called idiopathic short stature, meaning shortness occurring for no known reason.

Growth Hormones 101

Hormones are chemicals produced by certain organs of the body, most predominantly the endocrine and pituitary glands. The pituitary gland makes the hormones that promote the growth of body tissues. Growth hormone (GH), also known as somatotropin, is one such hormone.

Growth hormone stimulates growth by raising concentrations of glucose, free fatty acids, and IGF-1 (a protein central to childhood growth). This allows cells to regenerate and build muscle, bones, and other vital tissues. Other hormones produced by the pituitary gland that contribute to normal growth and development include thyroid-stimulating hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, and follicle-stimulating hormone.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration has approved the use of GH therapy to treat children with short stature for their age group caused by chronic kidney disease, Prader-Willi syndrome, Turner syndrome, Noonan syndrome, and other medical disorders.

Is Growth Hormone Therapy Right for Your Child?

If you're considering GH therapy for your child, it's important to know the benefits and drawbacks of this treatment.

It's a Long-Term Commitment

Growth hormone is given on a daily basis by injection, although for certain conditions, as few as three shots per week may be necessary. Most of the time, treatment is prescribed over the course of several years and may continue as long as there is a potential for growth.

In addition to growth hormone, a child may need to receive other hormones to keep their overall hormone levels balanced. 

It's Expensive

The cost of growth hormone therapy can run anywhere from $10,000 to $40,000 per year and is rarely covered by health insurance—unless it's needed as part of treatment for a serious medical condition. Even then, it may take a good deal of persistence to get your insurance company to approve long-term GH treatment.

It Won't Make a Huge Change

If you're considering growth hormones for your child, it’s important to discuss your expectations with your doctor, including how much height your child might gain. Make sure your child is aware of the realistic potential for growth as well. On average, growth hormone therapy can add between 1 to 3 inches as a kid nears adulthood.

Your family's attitudes about shortness play an important role in when deciding if growth hormone therapy is a good option for your child.

Growth hormone therapy will make your child taller than they might have been without it, but they may still be shorter than average. It is important to be open and honest about any negative feelings about short stature within your family, and how they may be unintentionally projected onto the child. No amount of growth hormone can alter those perceptions about height.

Some parents with children who are otherwise emotionally and physically healthy opt not to pursue GH therapy because of the cost and commitment. Whatever your choice may be, focus on boosting their self-esteem and reminding your child they are amazing just the way they are.

A Word From Verywell

It is natural to be concerned if your child has a sudden drop-off in growth, or seems much shorter than their friends and classmates. And while it's important to rule out serious health conditions that may cause growth changes, very often there is no underlying cause.

If you feel adding an inch or two will benefit your child, growth hormone therapy may be an option to increase your child's height. Your doctor is the best resource to answer your questions about GH therapy and ultimately determine if it's right for your family.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Vlaski J, Katanić D, Privrodski JJ, Kavecan I, Vorguicn I, Obrenović M. Idiopathic short stature. Srp Arh Celok Lek. 2013;141(3-4):256-61. doi:10.2298/sarh1304256v

  2. Cook DM, Rose SR. A review of guidelines for use of growth hormone in pediatric and transition patients. Pituitary. 2012;15(3):301-10.doi:10.1007/s11102-011-0372-6

  3. Sotos JF, Tokar NJ. Growth hormone significantly increases the adult height of children with idiopathic short stature: comparison of subgroups and benefit. Int J Pediatr Endocrinol. 2014;2014(1):15. doi:10.1186/1687-9856-2014-15

Additional Reading

By Vincent Iannelli, MD
Vincent Iannelli, MD, is a board-certified pediatrician and fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Dr. Iannelli has cared for children for more than 20 years.