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What is Growth Hormone Deficiency? A Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment

What is Growth Hormone Deficiency? A Guide to Diagnosis and Treatment

Every year, approximately 6,000 people  are diagnosed with a deficiency in human growth hormone. In total, this condition affects approximately 100,000 people annually.

Do you think you're suffering from a deficiency in human growth hormone? If you're experiencing symptoms like hair loss, muscle loss, or weight gain, this condition could be the culprit.  

What do you do about growth hormone deficiency? How is it diagnosed?  How do you treat it?  

Read on to get answers to these questions and more.

What is Growth Hormone?

Human growth hormone is a hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland, an endocrine gland located at the base of the brain. It is also known as HGH.

As the name suggests, HGH is responsible for growth in both children and adolescents. It plays a number of other important roles in the body, though, including the following:

  • Regulating body composition (ratio of body fat to lean body mass)

  • Regulates body fluids

  • Regulates the growth of bones and muscles

  • Plays a role in the metabolism of fat and sugar

  • Helps to maintain proper heart function

Human growth hormone also seems to plays a role in proper psychological health.

Adequate levels of HGH have been linked to higher energy levels and a better sense of well-being. People who have sufficient amounts of HGH are also less likely to suffer from depression and anxiety than those who do not.

What Causes Growth Hormone Deficiency?

Some children are born with a deficiency in human growth hormone.

This deficiency is usually caused by a genetic abnormality, such as a condition like Pader-Willi syndrome or Turner syndrome. Abnormal fetal pituitary gland development can also lead to congenital HGH deficiency.

In other cases, though, a deficiency develops in adulthood.

In adults, a deficiency in growth hormone is almost always brought on by damage to the pituitary gland. There are a number of ways that the pituitary gland can become damaged, including the following:

  • Pituitary tumors

  • Radiotherapy to the brain used to target other tumors

  • Severe head injuries

  • Autoimmune diseases  

  • Conditions like Sheehan's syndrome or pituitary apoplexy, which interfere with blood supply to the pituitary gland

In some cases, there is also no obvious cause of HGH deficiency. In these cases, the condition is known as idiopathic growth hormone deficiency.

Symptoms of a Deficiency

If someone is born with a deficiency in growth hormone, it's typically diagnosed shortly after birth. In adulthood, though, it can be harder to determine whether or not someone is suffering from an HGH deficiency.

Some of the most well-known symptoms associated with this condition include:

  • An increase in body fat

  • An increase in waist circumference

  • A decrease in muscle mass and muscle strength

  • Bone loss (this is usually relatively mild)

  • Thinning of the skin

  • Blood circulation abnormalities

  • Difficulty focusing or remembering

  • Changes in cholesterol levels

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • A decrease in exercise performance

  • Decreased energy levels

  • Depression, anxiety, and/or mood swings

Many people who experience these symptoms write them off as just regular signs of aging. In reality, though, they could be indicators of something much more serious.  

If you're experiencing any of these issues, it's important to visit your doctor to have your growth hormone levels tested.

Diagnosing Deficiencies

Before you can begin seeking growth hormone deficiency treatments, it's important to make sure that a deficiency in growth hormone is actually what you're experiencing.

There are a few different tests doctors can use to diagnose a deficiency:

Insulin Tolerance Test

One of the most frequently used tests to diagnose HGH deficiency is known as an insulin tolerance test.

This test involves giving a patient an injection of insulin. This, in turn, lowers blood sugar levels. In normal, healthy individuals, a reduction in growth hormone would lead to the release of growth hormone.

If the body does not produce growth hormone under these conditions, this is a sign that something is wrong.

Other Blood Tests

An insulin tolerance test is a popular option, but it's also not the only test that can be used to diagnose HGH deficiency.

Some other popular tests include:

  • Tests that measure the levels of binding proteins (IGF-I and IGFBP-3), which can identify damage to the pituitary gland

  • Blood tests that measure the amount of growth hormone found in the blood

  • Blood tests  that measure  the levels of other hormones produced by the pituitary gland (thyroid-stimulating hormone, luteinizing hormone, adrenocorticotropic hormone, etc.)

Your doctor may also perform a GHRH-arginine test. This test measures the levels of HGH released by the pituitary gland. Some find that it's even more accurate than the insulin tolerance test.

X-rays and MRIs

If your HGH deficiency is caused by a pituitary tumor or other damage, your doctor will be able to spot it on an x-ray or MRI.

Your doctor may also perform x-rays or other scans to measure bone density and check for bone abnormalities that may have been caused by a deficiency in HGH.

How to Treat a Growth Hormone Deficiency

The most effective treatment for a deficiency in human growth hormone is HGH replacement therapy.

Human growth hormone replacement therapy involves the administration of  HGH via an injection -- similar to the way diabetics administer insulin injections.  

Some treatment programs use synthetic HGH, while others use peptides like sermorelin, which stimulate the release of natural HGH. These treatment programs are more affordable and often yield better results.

If you're nervous about the idea of giving yourself regular growth hormone injections, it's important to note that HGH replacement therapy is quite safe.

Side effects are rare and mild and include things like swelling at the injection site or mild muscles aches and pains.

Start Increasing Growth Hormone Production Today

Do you think your symptoms are caused by growth hormone deficiency?

Now that you know more about this condition, it's time to take control of your health and start improving your growth hormone levels. 

There are lots of different treatments you can utilize to increase your growth hormone levels, but hormone replacement therapy is one of the most effective.

If you think growth hormone replacement therapy could help you feel like your old self, contact us today to enroll in a program or learn more about our  treatments.

About the author

Dr. Constance Odom, MD

4 min read