Growth hormone regulates many different processes in the body, and not all of them are to do with height. These include:
- Stimulation of the growth process to ensure that correct amounts of fat, water and muscle are in the body.
- Promoting cell growth and production of bone.
- Helping muscles and organ tissues to mature (e.g. increasing muscle mass during adolescence).
- Playing a role in concentration and memory.
To find out more about growth hormone itself visit our 'About growth' section.
Growth hormone deficiency
Growth hormone deficiency occurs when the body is unable to produce enough growth hormone to produce adequate growth and development.
Generally the cause of growth hormone deficiency is unknown, but it may occur as a result of a problem with the pituitary gland that produces growth hormone, or severe brain injury.
A child with growth hormone deficiency will often have a big belly and a round face. Although they will be shorter, their torso, legs and arms will all be in proportion.
Treatment with growth hormone
The medical name for growth hormone is somatropin. There are several brands available, your doctor will decide which product is most suitable.
How is growth hormone used?
Growth hormone is usually given once a day – as an injection under the skin (known as a subcutaneous injection) usually in the evening. From there, it enters the blood vessels and spreads throughout the body. Your doctor or a nurse will explain how you can give the injection.
Are there different types of injections?
There are different ways of giving the injection (delivery systems) some with, and others without, a needle.
In general the injection should always be given in a different area each night to avoids pits forming in the skin and also prevent a reduction of fat under the skin (subcutaneous fat), which can occur if the same place is injected all the time.
How long will my child need to use growth hormone for?
The treatment with growth hormone is generally carried out at least until adulthood. In some cases treatment with growth hormone is continued.
Taking a growth hormone treatment every day can be stressful and tedious. However, it is not advisable to stop the treatment without your doctor's approval. Remember that the bones will only grow as long as the treatment is continued. If the treatment is stopped, and the child goes from puberty into adulthood, their growth plates will close and there will be no other means of increasing their height.
Therefore, it is vital that your child understands why their treatment is important. Your doctor will discuss this with them, but your child will also need support from parents and friends to appreciate why it matters so much.
If you or your child has any doubts, you can always discuss them with your doctor - they will have lots of experience working with children and dealing with such issues.
Your doctor will decide whether to stop the treatment once your child has grown fully. If your child grows less than 0.5 inch (1.2cm) over six years, it is likely that their growth has stopped. An x-ray of the hand may be taken at this point to see if the growth plates are closed.
What type of side effects could growth hormone have?
Like all medications growth hormone can cause some undesirable effects. Some of the most common side effects include water retention, joint pains, nerve disturbances and changes in metabolism. You should always discuss any issues with your doctor as soon as possible.