Precocious Puberty is when a child goes through puberty too soon. In girls, puberty that occurs before the age of 8 and in boys, before the age of 9, is considered precocious puberty.
Puberty is the time of a child’s life where their body starts to develop and change into an adult. A surge in hormones causes breasts to grow in girls and their periods to start. In boys, the penis and testes enlarge, they start to grow facial hair and their voice deepens. In both sexes, pubic hair develops and body shape changes, although, in boys, muscle mass increases tend to persist for longer than girls. The average age to go through puberty is 11 for girls and 12 for boys.
What causes precocious puberty?
Precocious puberty is usually classified as central precocious puberty or peripheral precocious puberty.
In central precocious puberty, the pattern and steps in the puberty process are normal it's just that puberty has started too soon. There is no identifiable cause for most children, although rarely some genetic disorders, injuries, cancer or other medical conditions may cause it.
Peripheral precocious puberty is less common and is caused by estrogen or testosterone release into the body because of problems with the ovaries, testicles, adrenal glands or pituitary gland. Genetic disorders, cancer, or exposure to hormonal products may also cause it.
What are the symptoms of precocious puberty?
The symptoms of precocious puberty resemble the changes that happen during puberty, it’s just that they occur at a younger age (before the age of 8 in girls and 9 in boys). Symptoms of precocious puberty include:
- Breast growth in girls
- Menstruation before the age of 8
- Enlarged testicles and penis in boys
- Facial hair growth and deepening voice in boys
- Rapid growth spurt
- Body odor.
Who is more likely to develop precocious puberty?
Precocious puberty is more likely to happen in:
- African American and Hispanic children
- Children who are significantly overweight
- Children exposed to oral or topical hormones
- Children with medical conditions that may precipitate puberty such as McCune-Albright syndrome, congenital adrenal hyperplasia, or rarely, hypothyroidism (low thyroid levels)
- Children with previous exposure to radiation treatment for cancer or other reasons.
How is precocious puberty treated?
Treatment depends on the identifiable cause for the precocious puberty and may include, for example, surgery to remove a tumor or medication for low thyroid levels. Sometimes no treatment is necessary, or the doctor may wish to monitor the child for several months.
Treatments may include:
- GnRH analog therapy
Be mindful that children who begin puberty early may feel extremely self-conscious, which may affect their self-esteem and increase the risk of depression or substance abuse. Counseling may help you or your child understand and cope with the changes that are happening.