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Human growth hormone

5-minute read

Key facts

  • Human growth hormone (HGH) is made in your brain.
  • HGH is important in childhood growth.
  • HGH is used to treat children who aren’t growing as expected.
  • The use of HGH prescribed by a doctor is generally safe.

What is human growth hormone?

Human growth hormone (HGH) is a small protein. It is made in part of the brain called the pituitary gland. It travels in your bloodstream all over your body to make your body grow.

HGH is very important in the body. It is needed for children to grow normally. It helps make sure there is enough muscle and fat in the body. It keeps our bones healthy.

What are the symptoms of not enough HGH?

Some children do not make enough HGH. A low level of HGH can cause your child to grow more slowly. In adults, a low level of HGH can cause problems with fitness and health.

What are the symptoms of too much HGH?

Sometimes people can make too much HGH in their brain. This can cause children to be extremely tall.

In adults, a high level of HGH can cause your bones to grow too much. This is called ‘acromegaly’. It can make your hands and feet very large. Sometimes too much HGH can make your face look unusual. This is because the bones in your face have grown too much.

When is human growth hormone used?

Human growth hormone is used to treat children who aren’t growing. It is also used to treat children who are very short. Human growth hormone needs to be prescribed by a doctor. HGH is given by injection.

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.

Human growth hormone can also be given to adults who do not make enough HGH.

There are some other times when HGH is needed. Damage to your brain can reduce the amount of HGH made. A person might need HGH if they have had:

Complications from using human growth hormone

The use of HGH prescribed by a doctor is generally safe.

After the HGH injection, you may get swelling at the site of injection. A few people get headaches after the injection.

Some bone problems, like scoliosis, may get worse. This can happen if HGH treatment causes your bones to grow too quickly.

Today synthetic HGH is used for treatment. This means the HGH is made in a laboratory and is a safe product.

In the past, human growth hormone was made from the donated brains of dead people. However, a small number of people treated with this type of HGH got sick. They got a brain disease called Creutzfeld-Jakob Disease (CJD). It causes dementia and your muscles stop working properly.

Today, there is no risk of CJD. This is because the HGH is made safely in a laboratory.

Unsafe and illegal use of human growth hormone

Using HGH without a prescription from a doctor can cause serious health problems. Some people use HGH to make their muscles grow larger. This is very risky. It can cause:

Illegal HGH may not be what it claims to be. You do not always know what you might be injecting into your body.

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).

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: October 2022

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