Puberty -Too Early Or Too Late?

The average age of puberty for both boys and girls has been getting younger and younger over the last 150 years. In the mid-19 century it occurred around age 17 for girls, whereas now it is around 12 ½. There are many causes for this, the main one being better nutrition.

Precocious Puberty

However, some girls start maturing when they are barely out of diapers. It can occur in children as young as three. Some girls can even start their periods before they have started school! This is a condition called precocious puberty.

Signs to look for

If you notice your young daughter starts having typical pubertal signs such as body odor, acne, mood swings, a large growth spurt or starts developing breasts or body hair before the age of 7 you should take her to the doctor for an assessment. There can be various causes, varying from hormonal e.g. hypothyroidism and environmental ones such as obesity to other more serious conditions.

Diagnosis

Your health practitioner will give your child a physical exam, running blood tests to check hormone levels and taking X-rays of your child's hand and wrist to assess bone age and growth. The doctor may also run other tests such as an ultra sound or an MRI scan to eliminate more serious conditions that could cause the problem.

If your daughter is suffering from precocious puberty, the next step will be to decide which type of the disorder she has and the likely cause. This, plus the age of your daughter, will affect treatment decided. It may be necessary for your daughter to take medication to stop puberty in its tracks until your daughter reaches the ‘normal' age, at which time the treatment will be stopped and your daughter will continue to develop normally.

Late Puberty

At the other end of the scale, some girls are very late developers. If you daughter isn't showing some of the signs of puberty by the age of 13, e.g. a growth spurt, breast & body hair development or hasn't had a period by the age of 16, there maybe cause for concern. As delayed development can be hereditary, if you "started late" yourself, she may just be following in your footsteps.

However it is still a good idea to take her to get her a check up to see that everything is progressing as it should. There can be hormonal reasons why she is delayed, and your doctor will probably do a blood test and if necessary refer her to an endocrinologist.

Sign Of Anorexia

Girls who are underweight don't develop properly and if she is heavily into dieting, her lack of periods could be a sign that your daughter is anorexic. Girls who are very athletic may also have their periods delayed.

Other Factors To Consider

African-Americans generally normally mature 1-2 years earlier than Caucasians and may as a result be more likely to suffer from precocious puberty. High levels of lead exposure can on the other hand lead to delayed puberty.

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