When a child’s body begins to undergo sexual and physical development sooner than usual (puberty), it is known as precocious puberty. If puberty begins in girls before the age of 8 and before the age of 9 in boys it is considered precocious puberty. Although the cause is unknown, certain rare conditions that lead to hormone disorders, infections, brain abnormalities, or injuries may cause precocious puberty. Medications are given as the mainstay treatment.
About precocious puberty
The period in which girls and boys undergo sexual and physical development is called puberty. Changes seen at puberty include growth of sex glands (like testicles in boys and ovaries in girls) and development of secondary sexual characteristics including breast growth, body (especially pubic) hair, and voice changes. This growth is usually controlled in the brain by certain hormones. The average age for puberty is between 8 to 13 in girls and 9 to 14 in boys. When these puberty changes are seen before the age of 8 in girls and before 9 in boys, it is termed precocious puberty.
What are the symptoms of precocious puberty?
The symptoms for precocious puberty in boys are as follows:
- Enlargement of the testicles or penis
- Armpit or pubic hair
- Increased facial hair, generally on the upper lip
- Muscle growth
- Deepening of voice
- Growth spurt
- Spontaneous erections
- Increased sperm production
In girls, the following symptoms may be seen:
- Growth and development of breasts
- Underarm and pubic hair
- Early onset of menstruation
- Rapid height growth
Other common signs seen in girls and boys are as follows:
- Adult body odor
- Deepening of voice
What are the causes of precocious puberty?
The cause of precocious puberty is unknown. However, recognizing the type of the condition can help identify the cause for it. In central precocious puberty, the exact cause cannot be identified; but it begins too early. Generally, there is no underlying medical problem and no identifiable reason for the early puberty
- In some rare situations, central precocious puberty may be caused by:
- A brain defect from the birth like excess fluid accumulation or a benign tumor
- A tumor in the spinal cord or brain
- Radiation to the brain or spinal cord
- Injury to the brain or spinal cord
- McCune-Albright syndrome — a rare genetic disease
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia —causing abnormal hormone production by the adrenal glands
In peripheral precocious puberty, the following may be the causes:
- Any lesion in the adrenal glands or in the pituitary gland that causes a release of estrogen or testosterone
- Exposure to external sources of testosterone or estrogen like creams or ointments
- In girls, Ovarian cysts or tumours and in boys, a tumor in the cells which produces sperm or in the cells that produces testosterone
- A rare defect in a gene, can result in the early production of testosterone in boys, usually between ages 1 and 4.
Other causes of precocious puberty could be,
- Family history of precocious puberty
- Genetic problems
- Disorders of the ovaries, testes, or adrenal glands
- Exposure of young children to reproductive hormone (estrogen or testosterone) containing creams or chemicals from the external environment
When should you consult a doctor?
If your child displays any of the above symptoms of precocious puberty, do approach your doctor to evaluate your child. You can,
What are the treatment options for precocious puberty?
The treatment for precocious puberty depends on the type. However, it may include the following:
- Medications may be given to halt the release of sexual hormones. This will delay the further development of puberty. This treatment, known as GnRH analogue therapy, generally includes a monthly injection of a medication, such as leuprolide acetate or triptorelin which delays further development. Additional treatment option for central precocious puberty is a histrelin implant lasting for a year .
- Surgery may be advised in case of a tumor.
- Talking to a counselor can help with issues related to social and psychological problems due to early development as compared to their peers.
As parents, you can help your child cope and deal with this situation in the following ways:
- Explain in simple terms to your child what is happening to them.
- Keep them informed about the treatment and what to expect.
- Be alert for signs such as problems at school, poor grades, loss of interest in daily activities, and depression, which can indicate an emotional impact on your child.
- Promote a strong body image and a positive self-esteem.
- Offer praise for achievements in school.
- Support their interests.
- Avoid making comments on their appearances. If you have further doubts you can,
Precocious puberty occurs when your child attains puberty earlier than other children. It can be treated using medicines or surgical interventions. These treatments can help your child develop normally.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ’s)
What are the risk factors for precocious puberty?
Obesity, exposure to sex hormones, certain medical conditions that cause abnormal production of reproductive hormones, and receiving radiation therapy to the central nervous system are some of the risk factors for precocious puberty.
What are the complications of precocious puberty?
Having a shorter height compared to their counterparts after puberty and social and emotional problems due to early puberty are some of the possible complications associated with precocious puberty.
How can you prevent precocious puberty?
You cannot prevent precocious puberty. However, restricting your child’s exposure to reproductive hormonal creams, lotions, and medications and encouraging them to maintain a healthy weight can help prevent precocious puberty.