Precocious Puberty

What is Precocious Puberty?

Rarely requiring treatment, Precocious Puberty is the early start of puberty. Growth spurts and other signs of early puberty can appear in girls as early age eight and in boys around age nine. Precocious puberty at very early ages is considered rare and affects less than one percent of all children.

What are the Symptoms of Precocious Puberty?

Precocious puberty is classified as either central precocious puberty, the more common of the two types, or peripheral precocious puberty, which is caused by the female and male hormones (estrogen, testosterone) and is often related to issues with glands. Central precocious puberty is caused by stimulation of the ovaries or testicles by the pituitary gland. It can sometimes be triggered by tumors or brain inflammation that creates a hormone imbalance.

Signs for girls:

  • Breast development
  • Menstruation

Signs for boys:

  • Testicle development
  • Voice deepening

Precocious Puberty Causes

Precocious puberty is generally caused by an excessive amount of sex hormones. In boys, testosterone will cause early onset of puberty, while in girls, estrogen will produce the same effect. Often, this is the result of genetics, with genes that affect androgen receptors playing an exceptionally important role, but there are many environmental factors that may play a role as well. Congenital factors can also affect precocious puberty.

Environmental factors affecting precocious puberty are gender specific. For example, obesity is known to delay puberty in boys, but it can hasten the start of puberty in girls because of its effect on estrogen. Women who use certain drugs while pregnant, such as tobacco, may induce precocious puberty in boys even as their daughters display slowed development. The vast amount of research on environmental factors which may induce precocious puberty has led to greater efforts to reduce the problem.

How is Precocious Puberty Treated?

Diagnosis sometimes includes blood tests, MRIs, and ultrasounds. When treatment is necessary, GnRH analogs are delivered as implants or monthly injections to block hormones from the pituitary gland. Results of puberty halting, or reversing in some cases, are often seen within 6-12 months.

Management

If puberty starts too early it may cause bone maturation to end early, stunted growth, or emotional distress. Most children who experience some form of early puberty have little or no medical, psychological, or social issues. There’s no evidence to suggest early puberty leads to sexual activity at an earlier age.

How precocious puberty is handled depends on the age it occurs and whether or not a child is able to deal with the physical and psychological effects of puberty. When treatment is necessary, progression of puberty is usually successfully halted and continues within a normal age range. Studies suggest puberty, in general, is starting at a slightly earlier age than in previous generations.

Precocious Puberty Prevention

Preventing non-hereditary causes of precocious puberty tends to focus on identifying the individual cause in each case and doing everything possible to prevent further progression of the disease. One recently developed way to prevent precocious puberty in girls is to fight childhood obesity. Campaigns to end childhood obesity generally include mentions of the effects that obesity can have on puberty. Another major source of fights against precocious puberty can be seen in efforts to curtail the use of psychiatric medicine in children. Many popular psych meds have the potential to alter hormone production because of the impact they have on endocrine glands. Antidepressants are especially associated with this. Endocrine disruptors in the environment are believed to play a major role in precocious puberty. Bisphenol A, a chemical often found in plastic bottles, is well known for the impact it has on puberty in animals. Efforts to reduce exposure to BPA are important in preventing precocious puberty.

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Last Reviewed:
October 09, 2016
Last Updated:
January 11, 2018