Dwarfism is short stature that results from a genetic or medical condition. Dwarfism is generally defined as an adult height of 4 feet 10 inches or less (147 centimeters). The average adult height among people with dwarfism is 4 feet (122 cm).
Treatments for most dwarfism-related conditions don't increase stature but may lessen complications.
People with dwarfism may encounter discrimination. Family support, social networks, advocacy groups and adaptive products enable most people with dwarfism to address challenges in educational, work and social settings.
More than 200 different medical conditions cause dwarfism. Therefore, dwarfism symptoms — other than short stature — vary considerably across the spectrum of disorders. In general, the disorders are divided into two broad categories:
Almost all people with disproportionate dwarfism have normal intellectual capacities. Rare exceptions are usually the result of a secondary factor, such as excess fluid around the brain (hydrocephalus).
The most common cause of dwarfism is a disorder called achondroplasia, which causes disproportionately short stature. This disorder usually results in the following:
Another cause of disproportionate dwarfism is a rare disorder called spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (SEDC). Signs may include:
Growth hormone deficiency is a relatively common cause of proportionate dwarfism. It occurs when the pituitary gland fails to produce an adequate supply of growth hormone, which is essential for regular childhood growth. Signs include:
When to see a doctor
Most dwarfism-related conditions are genetic disorders, but the causes of some disorders are unknown. Most occurrences of dwarfism result from a random genetic mutation in either the father's sperm or the mother's egg rather than being in either parent's complete genetic makeup.
Growth hormone deficiency
Other causes of dwarfism include deficiencies in other hormones and poor nutrition.
Complications of dwarfism-related disorders can vary greatly, but some complications are common to a number of conditions.
People of average height may have misconceptions about people with dwarfism. Some wrongly believe that all people with dwarfism have limited intellectual abilities or personality disorders. Judging maturity by height rather than age, some people may treat people with dwarfism as children.
There's also a long history of people with dwarfism being treated as spectacles for entertainment. And the portrayal of people with dwarfism in modern movies often resorts to stereotypes.
Children with dwarfism are particularly vulnerable to teasing and ridicule from classmates. Because dwarfism is relatively uncommon, children may feel isolated from their peers.
Preparing for your appointment
How you learn whether your child has dwarfism will depend on the degree to which it affects his or her development. Disproportionate dwarfism is usually apparent at birth or early in infancy. Proportionate dwarfism may not be diagnosed until later in childhood or adolescence if your child isn't growing at an expected rate.
Well-baby visits and annual checkups
Questions your child's doctor might ask you may include the following:
Talking to your doctor about dwarfism
Tests and diagnosis
Your pediatrician will likely examine a number of factors in order to assess your child's growth and determine whether he or she has a dwarfism-related disorder. Diagnostic tests may include the following:
Health care team
Treatments and drugs
Most dwarfism treatments don't increase stature but may alleviate problems caused by complications.
Common surgical treatments
This procedure is controversial for many people with dwarfism because, as with all surgeries, there are risks, and because the "correction" in stature may imply there's something wrong with being short.
Treatment for girls with Turner syndrome also requires estrogen and related hormone therapy in order for them to begin puberty and achieve adult sexual development. Estrogen replacement therapy usually continues throughout life until a woman reaches the average age of menopause.
Lifestyle and home remedies
Talk with your pediatrician or a specialist about at-home care. Issues particularly critical for children with disproportionate dwarfism include the following:
Coping and support
If your child has dwarfism, you can take a number of steps to help him or her cope with challenges and function independently:
Last Updated: 2011-08-27
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