What is precocious puberty?
Precocious puberty is when a child’s body begins changing into that of an adult (puberty) too soon. Puberty that begins before age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys is considered precocious puberty.
Puberty includes rapid growth of bones and muscles, changes in body shape and size, and development of the body’s ability to reproduce.
The cause of precocious puberty often can’t be found. Rarely, certain conditions, such as infections, hormone disorders, tumors, brain abnormalities or injuries, may cause precocious puberty. Treatment for precocious puberty typically includes medication to delay further development.
How common is precocious puberty?
This precocious puberty is extremely common. It commonly affects more females than males. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.
What are the symptoms of precocious puberty?
Precocious puberty signs and symptoms include development of the following before age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys.
Signs and symptoms in girls include:
- Breast growth
- First period (menarche)
Signs and symptoms in boys include:
- Enlarged testicles and penis
- Facial hair (usually grows first on the upper lip)
- Deepening voice
Signs and symptoms that can occur in boys or girls include:
- Pubic or underarm hair
- Rapid growth
- Adult body odor
There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.
When should I see my doctor?
If you have any signs or symptoms listed above or have any questions, please consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.
What causes precocious puberty?
The onset of puberty is normally triggered by the hypothalamus (the area of the brain that helps control pituitary gland function). It signals the pituitary gland (a pea-sized gland near the base of the brain) to release hormones that stimulate the ovaries (in girls) or testicles (in boys) to make sex hormones.
Sometimes, precocious puberty stems from a structural problem in the brain (such as a tumor), brain injury due to head trauma, an infection (such as meningitis), or a problem in the ovaries or thyroid gland that triggers the onset of puberty ahead of schedule — but this usually isn’t the case.
For the majority of girls, there’s no medical problem at fault — they simply start puberty too early for no known reason.
In boys, the condition is less common and more likely to be related to another medical problem. And for about 5% of boys, precocious puberty is inherited. (Less than 1% of girls with precocious puberty have inherited the condition.) Early puberty can be passed to a son by his father or to the son from his maternal grandfather through his mother (who will not be affected by the disorder).
What increases my risk for precocious puberty?
There are many risk factors for precocious puberty, such as:
- 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 or testosterone cream or ointment, or other substances that contain these hormones (such as an adult’s medication or dietary supplements), can increase your child’s risk of developing precocious puberty.
- 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.
Diagnosis & treatment
The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.
How is precocious puberty diagnosed?
Talk to your doctor if your child shows any signs of early sexual maturation (before age 7 or 8 in girls or age 9 in boys), including breast development, rapid height growth, menstruation, acne, enlarged testicles or penis, or pubic or underarm hair.
The physical changes boys and girls go through during puberty are usually evident to a doctor during an exam. To confirm a diagnosis of precocious puberty, the doctor may order blood and urine tests to look for high levels of sex hormones. And X-rays of your child’s wrist and hand can show whether the bones are maturing too rapidly.
Imaging and scanning tests such as CT scans, MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging), and ultrasound studies can help rule out specific causes of precocious puberty, such as a tumor in the brain, ovary, or testicle.
How is precocious puberty treated?
Treatment for precocious puberty depends on the cause. The primary goal of treatment is to enable the child to grow to a normal adult height.
Treating central precocious puberty
Most children with central precocious puberty, in which there’s no underlying medical condition, can be effectively treated with medication. This treatment, called Gn-RH analogue therapy, usually includes a monthly injection of a medication, such as leuprolide (Lupron Depot), which delays further development. Some newer formulations can be given at longer intervals.
The child continues to receive this medication until he or she reaches the normal age of puberty. On average, 16 months after he or she stops receiving the medication, the process of puberty begins again.
Treating an underlying medical condition
If another medical condition is causing your child’s precocious puberty, treatment of that condition is necessary to stop the progress of puberty. For example, if a child has a tumor that’s producing hormones and causing precocious puberty, puberty usually will stop when the tumor is surgically removed.
Lifestyle changes & home remedies
What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage precocious puberty?
The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with precocious puberty:
Children who begin puberty early may feel different from their peers. Although there are few studies on the emotional effects of precocious puberty, it’s possible that feeling different can cause social and emotional problems, including early sexual experimenting. As a parent, you also may have trouble dealing with your child’s early development.
If you, your child or other members of your family are having difficulty coping, seek counseling. Psychological counseling can help your family better understand and handle the emotions, issues and challenges that accompany precocious puberty. If you have questions or would like guidance on how to find a qualified counselor, talk with a member of your health care team.
Some of the risk factors for precocious puberty, such as sex and race, can’t be avoided. But, there are things you can do to reduce your child’s chances of developing precocious puberty, including:
- Keeping your child away from external sources of estrogen and testosterone — prescription medications for adults in the house or dietary supplements containing estrogen or testosterone, for example
- Encouraging your child to maintain a healthy weight
If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.
Precocious puberty. http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/precocious-puberty/home/ovc-20265997. Accessed August 25, 2017.
Precocious puberty. http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/precocious.html#kha_31. Accessed August 25, 2017.
Review Date: August 28, 2017 | Last Modified: August 28, 2017