Growth Hormone

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Question

What is growth hormone?

Answer

Growth hormone (somatotropin) is an organic compound that stimulates the growth of bone, cartilage, and tissue. It also influences the metabolism (break down) of proteins, carbohydrates, and fat. Growth hormone is one of several hormones produced by the anterior (front) lobe of the pituitary gland, which is located at the base of the brain.

Growth hormone imbalances

Children need growth hormone to grow normally. Although an adult's bones have stopped growing lengthwise, adults continue to need growth hormone to maintain their bones, muscles, and body fat, as well as maintain their strength, energy, and quality of life. Various medical conditions occur when the body produces too much or too little growth hormone. These conditions are caused by gene mutations, pituitary gland damage (due to tumor, radiation, trauma, or surgery), or problems with the hypothalamus (which controls the pituitary gland).

Growth hormone excess can lead to tall stature in children or enlarged features and thickened skin in adults.

Growth hormone deficiency can lead to short stature in children or decreased muscle mass and weakness in adults. People with growth hormone excess or deficiency will typically be referred to a specialist called an endocrinologist. The endocrinologist will properly diagnose growth hormone levels in their patients and monitor their treatment accordingly. People diagnosed with excess growth hormone usually suffer from either pituitary gigantism or acromegaly. These conditions are typically caused by a slow-growing, noncancerous tumor located in the pituitary gland and result in tall stature.

Treatment options include surgical removal of the tumor (up to 80% cure rate), radiation, and prescription medications.

Read about hormones levels in our Health Encyclopedia.

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