Growth Hormone Deficiency

About growth hormone deficiency

Growth hormone (GH) secretion is a normal function of the pituitary gland. GH controls the development of the body’s bones and organs, a significant role in childhood. Even adults still need GH, though much less than children. When the pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough GH in adults, the lack can have effects on overall health.

In adults, GH is important for

  • Heart function
  • Bones
  • Processing protein, carbohydrates and fat
  • Feeling generally “well,” improving memory and concentration

Growth hormone deficiency in adults is usually the result of damage to the pituitary gland, most often caused by a tumor or its treatment (surgery and/or radiation).

Adults with growth hormone deficiency can have:

  • Fatigue (being tired all the time)
  • Bone loss
  • Higher risk of stroke and heart attack
  • Feelings of depression or isolation

A deficiency in growth hormone can be diagnosed by measuring GH response in an insulin tolerance test (ITT) or glucagon stimulation test. An ITT checks the level of GH in the body at timed intervals after injection of insulin. Insulin lowers the blood sugar level and low sugar is a message to the pituitary gland to release growth hormone. If growth hormone levels do not rise appropriately, then there could be a GH deficiency.

The treatment for growth hormone deficiency is replacement growth hormone by injection (shot). Patients give themselves a shot every day with a very small needle. You may have symptoms when you start taking this medication. Symptoms are usually mild and get better over time, as your body adjusts to the new growth hormone level. To control symptoms, your doctor will do tests and adjust your medication dose as needed.

Symptoms of too much growth hormone can include:

  • Muscle or joint pain
  • Headaches
  • Blurry vision

The goal of growth hormone replacement therapy is to improve overall well-being and reverse features of GH deficiency, such as abdominal fat deposition and poor bone density that can result from lacking the right level. Many patients, but not all, can have significant benefits from GH replacement.

Clinical trials are the last step in a lengthy process of research. These studies allow scientists to test the value of their research to diagnose, treat and prevent diseases and disabilities. Each clinical trial is an opportunity to test a promising invention or treatment.

The OHSU Pituitary Center is a national leader in research related to pituitary conditions.

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