Stature, also referred to as height vertex, is a scientific measurement obtained by determining a person’s height from the ground to the vertex. Accurate assessment of stature can be achieved using a range of instruments such as measuring tapes, stadiometers, anthropometric rods, and infantometers.
Short stature is a condition characterized by an individual’s height falling two standard deviations (SD) below the mean height for a specific age, sex, and population group, as defined by Ranke (1996). Medically referred to as “dwarfism,” short stature can be classified into two types:
- Proportionate Short Stature (PSS): A person is considered to have proportionate short stature when all body parts are uniformly smaller, resembling the proportions of an average-sized body. Proportional short stature can be caused by congenital or early childhood medical conditions that restrict overall growth and development.
- Disproportionate Short Stature (DSS): DSS is identified by a significant difference between sitting and standing height due to disproportional limb lengths. Individuals with short stature exhibit either average-sized trunks and significantly shortened limbs or disproportionately large limbs and a very short trunk. These conditions may also involve a disproportionately larger head in relation to the body.
In the medical field, various terms are utilized to describe short stature based on its underlying cause, including idiopathic short stature, familial short stature, constitutional short stature, and constitutional delay of growth in adolescence (CDGA), among others. The diagnosis of short stature requires a comprehensive approach, involving biochemical and radiological tests, nutritional and hormonal evaluations, and the estimation of bone age. Effective management of short stature primarily focuses on addressing the root cause while also addressing the associated psychosocial distress.
Causes of Short Stature
Genetic Factors: Genetic factors play a significant role in determining an individual’s height. If either parent has short stature, there is a higher probability of the child also having a shorter stature. This condition is referred to as familial short stature (FSS) and is primarily influenced by genetic inheritance. Individuals with genetic short stature generally achieve heights within the anticipated range and experience normal growth rates without any delay in bone age.
Early Puberty: Short stature can occur due to early puberty, a condition in which a child experiences puberty earlier than expected and may not reach their full growth potential. Several factors can contribute to early puberty, such as the accelerated development of reproductive organs like the ovaries, adrenals, and pituitary gland, as well as abnormalities in the cerebral and central nervous system. Moreover, the presence of a family history of early puberty may indicate a genetic inclination towards this condition.
Constitutional Growth Delay: Constitutional growth delay refers to a slower rate of growth during childhood. Some children may experience delayed growth, resulting in a bone age that is behind their actual age. Although they may be smaller compared to their peers, they typically catch up in height during adulthood. Factors like malnutrition during pregnancy or early childhood and genetic influences can contribute to this delay. It is commonly known as constitutional delay of growth and adolescence (CDGA).
Medical Conditions: Several medical conditions can contribute to short stature, with hormonal deficiencies being a significant factor. Growth hormone deficiency (GHD) is a common endocrine disorder associated with short stature. Growth hormones play a vital role in regulating human growth, and a deficiency in these hormones can hinder bone development and overall stature. Another endocrine cause of short stature is androgen deficiency, which leads to reduced bone formation and development.
Genetic Disorders: Certain genetic disorders can affect growth and result in short stature. Conditions like Down syndrome, Turner syndrome, Noonan syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome, Aarskog syndrome, Silver-Russell syndrome, and short stature homeobox gene deficiency are examples of such disorders. These genetic conditions often involve hormonal imbalances, which can lead to ovarian insufficiency, delayed growth, absence of expected growth spurts, and irregular menstrual cycles.
Bone Diseases: Certain bone diseases can limit the growth of bones, leading to a subsequent effect on a person’s stature. Conditions like achondroplasia (short-limbed dwarfism), diastrophic dysplasia (short-limbed dwarfism), spondyloepiphyseal dysplasias (short-trunk dwarfism), and rickets are examples of disorders that can influence an individual’s height.
Chronic Disorders: Chronic illnesses also have the potential to impact overall growth and stature. Conditions such as cystic fibrosis, Crohn’s disease, juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA), anemia, chronic renal insufficiency, and inflammatory bowel disorder can hinder proper growth and development, leading to short stature.
Diagnosis of Short Stature
Diagnosis of short stature can vary depending on the specific type and circumstances. In some cases, certain types of short stature can be identified at birth, while in others, regular visits to a pediatrician can help detect any abnormal growth patterns.
During a medical evaluation, the doctor will typically measure the child’s head circumference, height, and weight. If restricted growth is suspected, a thorough physical examination will be conducted, taking into account the child’s medical history and family history. In addition, the doctor may recommend various tests to further assess the situation.
These tests may include:
- X-ray: This imaging technique can be used to evaluate bone development and detect any abnormalities.
- Insulin tolerance test: By injecting insulin into a vein, the doctor can assess the response of the pituitary gland in releasing growth hormone (GH). Lower than normal GH levels may indicate a deficiency.
- Other specific tests: Depending on the suspected cause, additional tests may be conducted, such as a thyroid-stimulating hormone test to check for hypothyroidism, a complete blood count to test for anemia, metabolic tests to assess liver and kidney function, erythrocyte sedimentation and C-reactive protein tests to evaluate for inflammatory bowel disease, urine tests to check for enzyme deficiency disorders, tissue transglutinase and immunoglobulin A tests for celiac disease, and imaging scans like x-rays or MRI to identify issues with the pituitary gland or hypothalamus.
- Biopsies: In some cases, a bone marrow or skin biopsy may be recommended to confirm specific conditions associated with short stature.
These diagnostic procedures help healthcare professionals gather information and establish an accurate diagnosis for short stature.
The Psychological Impact of Short Stature
The impact of short stature on an individual’s psychology has been the subject of numerous studies. It has been observed that height plays a role in shaping a person’s personality and can influence partner selection during marriage. Taller individuals are generally preferred. Conversely, individuals with short stature often face belittlement from their peers, family members, and colleagues in various settings such as schools, colleges, and workplaces. They may endure teasing and bullying, leading to social isolation and an increased risk of experiencing psychosocial distress, particularly during adolescence. These challenges can extend to difficulties in academic performance, family relationships, social interactions, and adapting to the office environment.
Treatments of Short Stature
The key to managing short stature is to identify and address the underlying cause effectively. Hormonal deficiencies that contribute to short stature should be managed through hormonal treatments. Similarly, if short stature is a result of bone diseases, the focus should be on treating the specific disease.
In cases of endocrine diseases where hormone deficiency is present, the specific hormone should be replaced. For children with hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone replacement is administered. Similarly, growth hormone treatment is provided to children with growth hormone deficiency, enabling them to achieve normal growth and reach their full adult height potential. It is important to start these treatments quickly to tackle the main cause, prevent further short stature development, and reduce the social and psychosocial impacts.
Limb Lengthening Surgery: An Alternative Approach for Treating Short Stature
Short stature can have a significant impact on an individual’s physical and psychological well-being. While there are various treatment options available to address short stature, limb lengthening surgery has emerged as a remarkable intervention for individuals seeking to increase their height.
Limb lengthening surgery is a procedure that involves extending the length of bones, typically the long bones of the legs, to increase overall height. Here is an overview of the limb lengthening process:
- Preoperative Assessment: Before considering limb lengthening surgery, a thorough evaluation of the patient’s medical history, physical condition, and bone health is conducted. Imaging tests, such as X-rays and CT scans, help determine the feasibility and appropriateness of the procedure.
- Surgical Procedure: The limb lengthening surgery typically involves the controlled breaking (osteotomy) of the bone, followed by the gradual distraction of bone segments. An external or internal fixation device is used to stabilize the bone and facilitate the gradual lengthening process. Over time, new bone tissue fills in the gap created by the distraction, resulting in increased limb length.
- Lengthening and Rehabilitation: The lengthening phase occurs gradually, with the patient undergoing regular adjustments to the fixation device to allow for controlled bone growth. The lengthening rate is usually 1 millimeter per day. The lengthening process is stopped when the target length is reached. Physical therapy is an essential part of the recovery process to regain strength, mobility, and flexibility.
- Consolidation Period: The limb lengthening consolidation period is a crucial stage in the process where the newly lengthened bone is allowed to solidify and become stronger. This period usually lasts for months, varying depending on the individual and the specific procedure. It involves close monitoring by the medical team to ensure proper healing and progress. Once the consolidation period is over, patients can gradually start putting weight on the lengthened limb and regain normal function. It is an important phase that allows the bone to fully adapt to its new length and ensures a successful outcome of the limb lengthening surgery.
Considerations and Risks:
While limb lengthening surgery can provide a potential increase in height, it is important to consider the following aspects:
- Procedure Suitability: Limb lengthening surgery is typically recommended for individuals with specific medical indications, such as severe limb length discrepancy or skeletal dysplasia. A comprehensive evaluation by a qualified orthopedic surgeon is necessary to determine if the procedure is suitable for an individual case.
- Length of Treatment: The limb lengthening process is gradual and can take several months to a year, depending on the desired increase in height. It requires commitment, patience, and regular follow-up with the medical team.
- Potential Risks and Complications: Like any surgical procedure, limb lengthening surgery carries inherent risks, including infection, nerve damage, bone union problems, muscle contracture and complications associated with anesthesia. Close monitoring, adherence to post-operative care instructions, and regular communication with the medical team are essential to minimize these risks.
- Surgery Cost: The cost of limb lengthening surgery can vary depending on factors such as the specific technique used, the extent of lengthening needed, the surgeon’s experience, and the location of the medical facility. It is generally a costly procedure due to its specialized nature and comprehensive care. Individuals considering limb lengthening surgery should consult with a qualified surgeon to obtain an accurate cost estimate and explore potential insurance coverage or financial assistance options.
Short stature is a complex condition that requires a multidisciplinary approach for accurate diagnosis and effective management. Understanding the underlying causes, considering the psychological impact, and exploring treatment options such as limb lengthening surgery can help individuals with short stature improve their quality of life and achieve their desired height. Consultation with healthcare professionals is essential to determine the most suitable treatment approach based on individual circumstances and goals.