If you are like most parents, including myself, the term Precocious Puberty was unknown to me – until now. Honestly, I did not realize it was possible for children to begin the process of puberty at such an early age, therefore, becoming precocious. The good news is there has been no research to suggest this is a life-threatening condition.
“Just a generation ago, less than five percent of girls started puberty before the age of eight. Today that percentage has more than doubled,” notes Drs. Louise Greenspan and Julianna Deardorff in their book, The New Puberty: How to Navigate Early Development in Today’s Girls. In boys, according to an online medical resource, WebMD, the condition can likely begin at age nine.
To simplify this subject, the Mayo Clinic, a medical practice, education and research group providing expert care – with eight pediatric specialties – offers answers for parents with so many questions.
(Q) What is Precocious Puberty?
(A) Precious puberty is when a child’s body begins changing into that of an adult (puberty) too soon. This type of puberty includes premature and rapid growth of bones and muscles, changes in body shape and size and development of the body’s ability to reproduce.
(Q) What are the signs and symptoms?
(A) In girls, the signs and symptoms are breast growth and an initial menstrual cycle (also known as menarche pronounced me-när-ˈkē). Boys experience penis and testicle enlargements, facial hair (usually grows first on the upper lip) and deepening of the voice. Both can experience pubic or underarm hair, rapid growth, acne and adult body odor.
“If a child is showing signs of early development, blood tests (hormone levels) will usually be recommended as well as x-rays of hands to determine bone age,” says Dr. Michael Judice, a pediatrician at Lafayette Pediatrics. “Depending on the results of these tests, further studies might include a CT scan, ultrasound or other imaging studies of brain and/or abdomen. In addition, consultation with a pediatric endocrinologist will often be requested.”
(Q) What causes Precocious Puberty?
(A) The cause of precocious puberty often can not be found. Seldom, certain conditions, such as infections, hormone disorders, tumors, brain abnormalities or injuries, may cause precocious puberty.
“Exposure to skin products used by adults may cause signs of early development,” says Dr. Judice. “Early development may occur in a child with or without a known medical problem. Often times, the parents will have a history of early development as well.”
(Q) What are the risk factors?
(A) Factors that increase a child’s risk of precocious puberty include:
- Being a girl. Girls are much more likely to develop precocious puberty.
- Being African-American. Precocious puberty appears to affect African-Americans more often than children of other races.
- Being obese. Children who are significantly overweight have a higher risk of developing precocious puberty.
- Being exposed to sex hormones. Coming in contact with an estrogen, testosterone cream or other substances that contain these hormones (i.e. adult’s medication or dietary supplements).
- Having other medical conditions. Precocious puberty may be a complication of McCune-Albright syndrome or congenital adrenal hyperplasia — conditions that involve abnormal production of the male hormones (androgens). In rare cases, precocious puberty may also be associated with hypothyroidism.
- Having received radiation therapy of the central nervous system. Radiation treatment for tumors, leukemia or other conditions can increase the risk of precocious puberty.
(Q) What treatment options are available?
(A) Treatment for precocious puberty depends on the cause. Most children with no underlying medical conditions can be treated with monthly injections to delay further development. If other conditions exist, the treatment of that condition will stop the progress of puberty. And, some cases require no treatment.
As a parent, precocious puberty can be tasking on you and terrifying for your child. If you have concerns about early pubertal development, do not hesitate to discuss this issue with your pediatrician.
As always, at Woman’s Foundation, we care about the well-being of you and your family. Growing up is tough; we can help.
Here are additional resources concerning Precocious Puberty that may be helpful to you or someone you know.
Puberty too Soon Website – https://www.pubertytoosoon.com
Puberty too Early Website – http://www.pubertytooearly.com/default.aspx
The Precocious Puberty Phenomenon Article – http://www.parenting.com/article/precocious-puberty