Growth hormone deficiency (GHD) is a condition that occurs when the pituitary gland doesn’t produce enough human growth hormone (HGH). GHD can affect both children and adults. Some people are born with the condition. Others develop it as a result of a brain injury, tumor, brain surgery, or radiation treatment.
Like many hormones, levels of HGH decrease as we get older. Hormone replacement therapy is an effective treatment that can help encourage growth in children, improve bone and muscle strength, and help improve your quality of life.
Read on to learn more about growth hormone deficiency, including symptoms and treatments.
What Is Human Growth Hormone?
Human growth hormone, also referred to as HGH or GH, is a hormone made by the pituitary gland — a small, bean-shaped gland at the base of the brain. HGH is released from the pituitary gland into the bloodstream to help the body process protein and assist with fat breakdown.
In children, growth hormone is important for normal growth, bone and muscle strength, and the distribution of body fat — especially during puberty. It’s an important hormone in adulthood, too.
Even long after we stop growing in childhood and adolescence, we need HGH— this hormone from the tiny pituitary gland has a big job in the body. It helps keep our bones and muscles healthy and it regulates glucose (sugar) and lipid (fat) levels in the body. HGH is also needed to maintain normal brain function, such as cognitive processing, focus, memory, and learning. It also helps regulate mood and motivation.
What Are the Symptoms of Growth Hormone Deficiency?
Symptoms of growth hormone deficiency can vary from person to person. Some people may only have a couple of symptoms, whereas others may have several.
If you have GH deficiency, you may experience some of the following symptoms:
- Baldness (in men)
- Decrease in libido/sexual desire
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry skin
- Heart problems
- High cholesterol
- Insulin resistance
- Memory problems
- Reduced bone density, which can lead to more bone fractures, particularly in older adults
- Sensitivity to hot and cold temperatures
- Trouble exercising, due to a decrease in stamina and strength
- Weight gain, particularly around your waist
These symptoms can have a tremendous impact on your quality of life. If you are experiencing a number of these symptoms and suspect you have GHD, speak with your doctor. They can properly diagnose you with GHD and discuss whether hormone replacement therapy is a suitable option for you.
Even if your symptoms are not currently impacting your quality of life, it’s important to speak with your healthcare provider about how you’re feeling. Adults with GDH are more susceptible to developing health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease.
What Causes Growth Hormone Deficiency (GHD)?
Approximately 1 in 4,000 people are living with GHD. Growth hormone deficiency can be caused by a number of things.
In some cases, children are born with GHD. This is known as congenital growth hormone deficiency.
GHD can also develop during childhood and adulthood. This is known as acquired growth hormone deficiency. As we age, our hormone levels naturally decline, so many older adults experience a significant drop in their growth hormone levels in their golden years.
Apart from individuals who are born with congenital growth hormone deficiency, there are a number of causes of GHD, including:
- Autoimmune disease
- Brain tumor
- Brain surgery
- Head injury
- Hormonal imbalance in the hypothalamus and/or pituitary gland
- Injury to the pituitary gland
- Pituitary tumor
- Poor blood supply to the pituitary gland
- Radiation therapy to the head
How is Growth Hormone Deficiency Diagnosed?
In order to be diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency, you will need to visit your primary healthcare physician or an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists are doctors who specialize in the care and treatment of glands and the hormones they regulate.
When you visit the doctor, they will begin the appointment with a review of your medical history, symptoms you are experiencing, and family medical history. This will be followed by a physical examination.
During the physical exam, your doctor will check your weight, height, and body proportions. After the physical exam, your doctor may order bloodwork or imaging tests in order to give an accurate and correct diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency.
In order to detect growth hormone deficiency, blood tests may be run to check levels of:
- Actual human growth hormone
- Binding proteins, including IGF-1 levels (insulin-like growth factor-1) and IGFPB-3 (insulin-like growth factor binding protein 3) — these are proteins that can be markers for growth hormone function.
- Other hormone deficiencies for hormones produced by the pituitary gland (e.g., prolactin, thyroid-stimulating hormone)
You may also undergo a growth hormone stimulation test and insulin tolerance test.
A growth hormone stimulation test involves your blood being drawn several times through an intravenous line (IV) over the course of 2-5 hours. This test can detect whether a growth hormone deficiency is causing your symptoms.
An insulin tolerance test (ITT) has long been considered the “gold standard” to detect GHD in adults. Insulin will be injected into your veins and your blood glucose levels will be monitored at regular intervals. This is done to assess how your pituitary gland is functioning, as well as adrenal function and insulin sensitivity.
In addition to these blood tests, you may also undergo additional tests to help diagnose GHD. These tests may include:
- Dual-energy x-ray absorptiometry. This is a scan that measures bone density.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI). MRI sends radio waves through the body to produce images of the body’s soft tissues, including the pituitary gland and hypothalamus.
- X-rays. This may be done on your hands and/or head so your doctor can detect any potential bone abnormalities.
If you suspect you have growth hormone deficiency, talk with your doctor. They will give you a physical examination and suggest lab work and/or imaging tests to give you an accurate diagnosis.
How is Growth Hormone Deficiency Treated?
Once you have an official growth hormone deficiency diagnosis, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacement therapy to return your HGH levels within normal range. Human growth hormone therapy medications are typically administered by injection.
Most people on GH therapy need daily doses of growth hormone to restore their GH levels and overall health. However, this can vary. Some people may only need injections every couple of days, and others may need daily injections.
Once you begin hormone replacement therapy, you will need to be monitored by a healthcare professional, with regular check-ins every 4-8 weeks. Your doctor will perform blood tests regularly to check your growth hormone, cholesterol, and blood glucose levels to ensure they are within the normal and healthy range.
What Are the Benefits of Hormone Replacement Therapy?
Changes in body type (e.g., less muscle) and a decline in cognitive function such as memory problems are associated with the natural aging process. However, many adults who undergo hormone replacement therapy may find the therapy helps ease the aging process.
Hormone replacement therapy offers a number of benefits, including:
- Better sleep
- Boost in energy levels
- Improved mood
- Increased muscle mass and strength
- Sharper mind, good memory
At Elite HRT, you will receive a personalized hormone replacement therapy program designed just for you. These treatments will far supersede any generic methods of GH treatment available from general practitioners and family doctors.
How Can Growth Hormone Therapy Be Used?
You should only use growth hormone therapy if prescribed by a doctor, such as your family doctor or an endocrinologist. This can only be prescribed if you have confirmed GHG deficiency through blood tests and a physical examination.
Growth hormone should not be used strictly for fitness performance enhancement or to improve your muscle mass. It should only be used by people who have been diagnosed with growth hormone deficiency by a healthcare professional.
If you suspect you have a growth hormone deficiency, speak with your healthcare provider. They will complete a full physical examination and order lab work to help properly diagnose you. If you have a diagnosis, you may be prescribed therapeutic growth hormone replacement therapy.
If you have a growth hormone deficiency, HGH medications may help reduce your symptoms and improve your overall health and well-being. These medications should only be prescribed by a healthcare professional and used under their guidance.
HGH treatment may improve your bone and muscle strength, increase your energy levels, improve mood, and reduce your risk of developing certain diseases, such as heart disease and diabetes.
Call your doctor to discuss your concerns, or make an appointment with us here at Elite HRT to learn more about HGH treatments.