Early puberty is the change in a child’s body into an adult (puberty) at an earlier age than it should be. Girls are considered to experience early puberty, when puberty occurs before the age of 8 years . While in boys , early puberty occurs before the age of 9 years.
Early puberty causes changes in body shape and size, bone and muscle development, and the development of reproductive abilities and organs. This condition is quite rare because it only occurs in one in 5 thousand children.
Although early puberty is synonymous with changes in body shape in children, there are changes in a child’s body that occur earlier but are not caused by early puberty.
These changes can be in the form of premature breast growth (premature thearche) only , or growth of pubic hair and armpit hair prematurely (premature pubarche) only .
Symptoms of Early Puberty
The symptoms or signs of precocious puberty are the same as those of puberty in general, but these symptoms occur much earlier.
Girls are said to experience early puberty when puberty occurs before the age of 8 years. Early puberty is characterized by breast growth and an earlier first menstruation.
While in boys, early puberty occurs before the child is 9 years old, with symptoms in the form of changes in the voice becoming heavier, the growth of a mustache, and enlargement of the testes and penis.
Other symptoms that can accompany early puberty in boys and girls are:
- The appearance of acne on the face.
- Growth in height becomes more rapid.
- Body odor changes to that of an adult.
When to go to the doctor
You are advised to consult a doctor if he experiences some of the symptoms of precocious puberty above, when he is 7-9 years old, or even younger.
That way, the doctor can evaluate the child’s condition. If precocious puberty is suspected, the doctor will perform a number of tests to determine the cause.
Causes of Early Puberty
Normal puberty occurs during early adolescence, when the child is 10 years old and over.
Puberty is triggered by the gonadotropin hormone (GnRH), which is a hormone that stimulates the production of the hormone estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys.
In early puberty, puberty occurs earlier. There are 2 types of precocious puberty, which are caused by the release of gonadotropin hormones as well as normal puberty ( central precocious puberty ) and those that are not caused by the GnRH hormone ( peripheral precocious puberty ).
Both types of early puberty both increase the production of the hormones estrogen and testosterone in the body.
Central Precocious Puberty (CPP)
It is not clear what causes the early release of gonadotropin hormones in patients with central precocious puberty . However, CPP can occur in the following conditions:
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia.
- Tumor or injury to the brain and spinal cord.
- Conditions with brain defects at birth, such as hydrocephalus.
Peripheral Precocious Puberty
The increase in testosterone and estrogen hormones in patients with early puberty is not caused by gonadotropin hormones, but due to disease or other triggering factors.
Diseases that can cause p eripheral p recocious p uberty are:
- Tumors of the adrenal glands or pituitary gland.
- McCune-Albright syndrome.
- Ovarian tumors or cysts in girls.
- Tumors in sperm-producing cells or testosterone-producing cells in boys.
In addition to the diseases above, there are several other triggering factors that can increase the risk of a child experiencing early puberty, including:
- History of genetic disorders from parents or siblings.
- Exposure to estrogen and testosterone from the outside, for example through the use of creams or ointments.
- Undergoing radiotherapy to the head and spine.
Early Puberty Diagnosis
The doctor will ask about the symptoms, as well as diseases that have been or are being suffered by the child and his family. The doctor will also check for physical changes in the child’s body, and perform blood and urine tests to check hormone levels in the child’s body.
Next, the doctor will perform GnRH stimulation to find out the type of early puberty suffered by the child. In this test, the doctor will take a sample of the child’s blood, then inject the child with the GnRH hormone, and take another blood sample after some time.
There are several additional tests that the doctor may also perform, including:
- Thyroid hormone test, to see if there is a decrease in the amount of thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), which is one of the conditions that cause early puberty.
- MRI, to look for abnormalities in the brain that trigger early puberty.
- X-rays on the hand and wrist, to determine the condition and age of the child bones, whether according to age. In early puberty, the condition of the child’s bones does not match his age.
- Ultrasound, to make sure there are no other disorders that cause early puberty.
Early Puberty Treatment
Patients with early puberty will initially grow taller than children their age. However, when they reach adulthood, sufferers will usually have a shorter height than average. Therefore, early puberty treatment aims for children to grow normally into adulthood, especially in terms of height.
Treatment of premature puberty can vary, depending on the cause. Early puberty that is not caused by a specific disease or condition can be treated with GnRH analogue therapy.
In GnRH analog therapy, the endocrinologist will give an injection to inhibit the development of the child’s body due to early puberty. These injections are given every month until the child reaches normal puberty. Generally, puberty will resume about 16 months after the injection is stopped.
If premature puberty is caused by certain diseases, the doctor will treat the cause first. For example, if precocious puberty is caused by hormones secreted by a tumor, the surgeon will remove the tumor.
Complications of Early Puberty
Children who experience early puberty will have a different height and stature from their peers. This can cause the child to become insecure and feel awkward.
There are several negative effects that can occur in children later in life if early puberty is not treated, including:
- Emotional and social problems
Changes in body shape experienced by a child can make him embarrassed and stressed because he feels he is different from his peers. This condition can also increase a child’s risk of developing depression.
- Having a short body Children who experience early puberty will grow faster, so they will look taller than children their age. However, this causes the bones to mature quickly and stop growing prematurely. As a result, the child’s body will be shorter than average when he grows up.
Prevention of Early Puberty
Most of the causes of early puberty cannot be prevented, for example due to inherited genetic disorders. However, because obesity is one of the risk factors that trigger early puberty, you need to help your child to keep his weight from being overweight, by providing him with healthy foods and encouraging him to be active and exercise.
Exposure to creams or ointments that contain certain hormones can also trigger early puberty. Therefore, do not give your child any creams or medicines without consulting your doctor, especially creams and medicines that contain hormones.