ANSWERS: 1
  • <div class="section1"> Definition

    Dwarfism is a condition in which the growth of the individual is very slow or delayed. There are many forms of dwarfism. The word pituitary is in reference to the pituitary gland in the body. This gland regulates certain chemicals (hormones) in the body. Therefore, pituitary dwarfism is decreased bodily growth due to hormonal problems. The end result is a proportionate little person, because the height as well as the growth of all other structures of the individual are decreased.

    Description

    Pituitary dwarfism is caused by problems arising in the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is also called the hypophysis. The pituitary gland is divided into two halves: the anterior (front) and posterior (back) halves. The anterior half produces six hormones: growth hormone, adrenocorticotropin (corticotropin), thyroid stimulating homone (thyrotropin), prolactin, follicle stimulating hormone, and lutenizing hormone. The posterior pituitary gland only produces two hormones. It produces antidiuretic hormone (vasopressin) and oxytocin.

    Most forms of dwarfism are a result of decreased production of hormones from the anterior half of the pituitary gland. The most common form is due to decreases of growth hormone which will be discussed here. These decreases during childhood cause the individual's arms, legs, and other structures to develop normal proportions for their bodies, but at a decreased rate.

    When all of the hormones of the anterior pituitary gland are not produced, this is called panhypopituitarism. Another type of dwarfism occurs when only the growth hormone is decreased. Dwarfism can also result from a lack of somatomedin C (also called insulin like growth factor, IGF-1) production. Somatomedin C is a hormone produced in the liver that increases bone growth when growth hormone is present. The African pygmy and the Levi-Lorain dwarfs lack the ability to produce somatomedin C in response to growth hormone. All causes of dwarfism lead to a proportionate little person.

    Growth is the body's response to different hormones. The forebrain contains a small organ called the hypothalamus, which is responsible for releasing hormones in response to the body's needs for purposes of regulation. Growth hormone is produced in the anterior pituitary gland when growth hormone-releasing hormone (GHRH), is released by the hypothalamus. Growth hormone is then released and stimulates the liver to produce IGF-1. In return, IGF-1 stimulates the long bones to grow in length. Thus, growth can be slowed down or stopped if there is a problem making any of these hormones or if there is a problem with the cells receiving these hormones.

    Some estimates show that there are between 10,000 and 15,000 children in the United States who have growth problems due to a deficiency of growth hormone.

    Causes and symptoms

    Pituitary dwarfism has been shown to run in families. New investigations are underway to determine the specific cause and location of the gene responsible for dwarfism. The human cell contains 46 chromosomes arranged in 23 pairs. Most of the genes in the two chromosomes of each pair are identical or almost identical with each other. However, with dwarfism, there appears to be disruption on different areas of chromosome 3 and 7. Some studies have isolated defects for the production of pituitary hormones to the short arm (the "p" end) of chromosome 3 at a specific location of 3p11. Other studies have found changes on the short arm of chromosome 7.

    A child with a growth hormone deficiency is often small with an immature face and chubby body build. The child's growth will slow down and not follow the normal growth curve patterns. In cases of tumor, most commonly craniopharyngioma (a tumor near the pituitary gland), children and adolescents may present with neurological symptoms such as headaches, vomiting, and problems with vision. The patient may also have symptoms of double vision. Symptoms such as truly bizarre and excessive drinking behaviors (polydipsia) and sleep disturbances may be common.

    Diagnosis

    The primary symptom of pituitary dwarfism is lack of height. Therefore, a change in the individual's growth habits will help lead to a diagnosis. Another diagnostic technique uses an x ray of the child's hand to determine the child's bone age by comparing this to the child's actual chronological age. The bone age in affected children is usually two years or more behind the chronological age. This means that if a child is ten years old, his or her bones will look like they are those of an eight-year-old child. The levels of growth hormone and somatomedin C must also be measured with blood tests.

    Hypopituitarism may be gained or acquired following birth for several reasons. It could be due to trauma to the pituitary gland such as a fall or following surgery to the brain for removal of a tumor. It may also be due to the child's environment (deprivational dwarfism).

    On examination by the doctor there may be optic nerve atrophy, if the dwarfism is due to a type of tumor. X rays of the area where the pituitary gland is located (sella turcica) or more advanced imaging such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or computed tomography CT may show changes of the pituitary gland itself. Computed tomography, is an advanced form of x ray that will help determine the integrity of the bone and how much calcification the tumor is producing. Magnetic resonance imaging, will also help in the diagnosis. MRI is a type of imaging device that can visualize soft tissues such as muscle and fat.

    If the dwarfism is due to environmental and emotional problems, the individual may be hospitalization to monitor hormone levels. Following a few days of hospitalized, hormone levels may become normal due to avoidance of the original environment.

    Treatment

    The main course of therapy is growth hormone replacement therapy when there is lack of growth hormone in the body. A pediatric endocrinologist, a doctor specializing in the hormones of children, usually administers this type of therapy before a child's growth plates have fused or joined together. Once the growth plates have fused, GH replacement therapy is rarely effective.

    Growth hormone used to be collected from recently deceased humans. However, frequent disease complications resulting from human growth hormone collected from deceased bodies, lead to the banning of this method. In the mid-1980s, techniques were discovered that could produce growth hormones in the lab. Now, the only growth hormone used for treatment is that made in a laboratory.

    A careful balancing of all of the hormones produced by the pituitary gland is necessary for patients with panhypopituitarism. This form of dwarfism is very difficult to manage.

    Prognosis

    The prognosis for each type of dwarfism varies. A panhypopituitarism dwarf does not pass through the initial onset of adult sexual development (puberty) and never produces enough gonadotropic hormones to develop adult sexual function. These individuals also have several other medical conditions. Dwarfism due to only growth hormone deficiency has a different prognosis. These individuals do pass through puberty and mature sexually, however, they remain proportionately small in stature.

    If the individual is lacking only growth hormone then growth hormone replacement therapy can be administered. The success of treatment with growth hormone varies however. An increase in height of 4–6 in (10–15 cm) can occur in the first year of treatment. Following this first year, the response to the hormone is not as successful. Therefore the amount of growth hormone administered must be tripled to maintain this rate. Long-term use is considered successful if the individual grows at least 0.75 in (2 cm) per year more than they would without the hormone. However, if the growth hormone treatment is not administered before the long bones—such as the legs and arms—fuse, then the individual will never grow. This fusion is completed by adult age.

    Improvement for individuals with dwarfism due to other causes such as a tumor, varies greatly. If the dwarfism is due to deprevational causes, then removing a child from that environment should help to alleviate the problem.

    Source: The Gale Group. Gale Encyclopedia of Medicine, 3rd ed.

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