Precocious puberty is when someone's body begins changing from a child into an adult too soon. The process of changing from a child into an adult is known as puberty, and puberty that begins before age 8 for girls and before age 9 for boys is considered precocious puberty.
Puberty includes rapid growth of bones and muscles, changes in body shape and size, and development of the body's ability to reproduce.
The cause of precocious puberty often can't be found. Rarely, conditions such as infections, hormone disorders, tumors, brain abnormalities or injuries may cause precocious puberty. Treatment for precocious puberty typically includes medication to delay further development.
Signs and symptoms of precocious puberty include development of the following before age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys.
Precocious puberty symptoms in girls include:
Precocious puberty symptoms in boys include:
Precocious puberty symptoms that can occur in boys or girls include:
When to see a doctor
To understand what causes precocious puberty in some children, it's helpful to know what causes puberty to begin. A number of steps must occur before puberty begins. This process involves the following steps:
The reason this process begins early in some children depends on the type of precocious puberty they have: central precocious puberty or peripheral precocious puberty.
Central precocious puberty
In central precocious puberty, the puberty process starts too soon. Although they begin earlier than they should, the pattern and timing of the steps in the process are otherwise normal. For the majority of children with this condition, there's no underlying medical problem and no identifiable reason for the early puberty.
In rare cases, the following may cause central precocious puberty:
Peripheral precocious puberty
Peripheral precocious puberty, which is less common than central precocious puberty, happens without involvement of a hormone in your brain (Gn-RH) that normally triggers the start of puberty. Instead, the cause is release of estrogen or testosterone into the body because of problems with the ovaries, testicles, adrenal glands or pituitary gland.
In both girls and boys, the following may lead to peripheral precocious puberty:
In girls, peripheral precocious puberty may also be associated with:
In boys, peripheral precocious puberty may also be caused by:
Factors that increase a child's risk of precocious puberty include:
Possible complications of precocious puberty include:
Preparing for your appointment
You're likely to start by seeing your child's pediatrician or a family doctor. However, in some cases when you call to set up an appointment, you may be referred immediately to a doctor who specializes in the treatment of hormone-related conditions in children (pediatric endocrinologist).
Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot of ground to cover, it's a good idea to be well prepared for your appointment. Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment, and what to expect from your child's doctor.
What you can do
Your time with the doctor is limited, so preparing a list of questions in advance will help you make the most of your time together. List your questions from most important to least important in case time runs out. For precocious puberty, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
In addition to the questions that you've prepared to ask your doctor, don't hesitate to ask questions during your appointment if you don't understand something.
What to expect from your doctor
Tests and diagnosis
To diagnose precocious puberty, the doctor will:
X-rays of your child's hand and wrist also are important for diagnosing precocious puberty. These X-rays can help the doctor determine your child's bone age, which shows if the bones are growing too quickly.
Determining the type of precocious puberty
Additional testing for central precocious puberty
Additional testing for peripheral precocious puberty
Treatments and drugs
Treatment for precocious puberty depends on the cause.
Treating central precocious puberty
Treating an underlying medical condition
Coping and support
Children who begin puberty early may feel different from their peers, which can cause social and emotional problems such as low self-esteem, depression and substance abuse. As a parent, you also may have trouble dealing with your child's early development.
If you, your child or other members of your family are having difficulty coping, seek counseling. Psychological counseling can help your family better understand and handle the emotions, issues and challenges that accompany precocious puberty. If you have questions or would like guidance on how to find a qualified counselor, talk with a member of your health care team.
Some of the risk factors for precocious puberty, such as sex and race, can't be avoided. But, there are things you can do to reduce your child's chances of developing precocious puberty, including:
Last Updated: 2011-02-03
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