If your child is growing more slowly than other children or is very short for their age, they might have low levels of a brain hormone called human growth hormone (HGH, or hGH).
What is human growth hormone?
Lack of HGH can cause slow growth in children and also problems with fitness and health in adults.
A very high level of HGH can cause children to be abnormally tall. In adults, it can cause overgrowth of bone that disfigures the hands, feet and face — a condition called ‘acromegaly’.
Until the mid-1980s, the growth hormone used to treat humans was extracted from the donated brains of dead people. However a small number of people treated with such HGH developed Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (CJD), a brain disease that causes muscle wasting and dementia.
Today synthetic HGH is used. There is no risk now of CJD.
Medical uses of human growth hormone
Growth hormone is used to treat children who are not growing or are very short and adults with growth hormone deficiency.
If your child needs treatment with HGH, the Australian government will cover the cost.
If your child needs treatment with HGH, the Australian government may cover the cost. You can check whether your child is eligible on the Services Australia website.
Safe use of human growth hormone
The use of prescribed HGH under medical supervision is generally safe. HGH is given by injection. Some people get a reaction or swelling at the site of injection and a few get headaches.
Some bone problems, like scoliosis, could be worsened if HGH treatment causes rapid growth.
Unsafe use of human growth hormone
The illegal use of HGH without a prescription, for example to promote muscle growth, is risky. It can cause acromegaly, and possibly diabetes, high blood pressure, liver damage, heart problems and premature aging.
In addition, illegal HGH may not be what it claims to be, so you don’t know what you might be injecting.
For more information
If you have questions about HGH, or you are concerned about your child's growth, talk to your doctor or call healthdirect on 1800 022 222 (known as NURSE-ON-CALL in Victoria).
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Last reviewed: June 2020