Precocious puberty is more commonly known as early puberty and refers to onset of puberty before 8 years of age in females and 9 years in males. It is far more common in females than in males, although some males may be affected by the condition.
Puberty is a normal physiological process that involves the transition from child to adolescent to adulthood. However, when the onset of puberty occurs at an earlier age than normal, individuals can experience negative effects.
In particular, final adult height is often less than expected due to the earlier growth spurt and final formation of bones. Additionally, many children have difficulty interacting socially as their body appears to be more advanced than their mental maturity.
Signs of precocious puberty are simply normal signs on puberty that occur at an earlier age.
For females, the following symptoms before the age of 8 may indicate early puberty:
- Breast formation (initial sign)
- Growth spurt
- Armpit or pubic hair
- First menses
Males before the age of 9 may experience:
- Testes and penis growth
- Armpit or pubic hair
- Facial hair growth, particularly upper lip
- Muscle growth
- Voice changes
These changes can affect the way in which the child relates to other people. It is common for strangers to wrongly assume they are older than they are, which can cause difficulty as the child tries to adjust to this.
If symptoms of puberty are noted in children before the age at which it is expected to begin, it is recommended that the child, parents and clinician discuss management options to choose the best course of action.
Initially, it is important to eliminate the possibility of other more serious conditions to be causing the symptoms, such as a tumor in the central nervous system. This is unlikely, but given the serious nature of the condition it is imperative that this is considered first.
It is possible to delay puberty, even after the initial signs have begun, using pharmacological management. Gonadotropin secretion is the cause behind the early puberty symptoms and, therefore, treatments are directed towards this. Histrelin is a drug that alters the secretion of gonadotropin and effectively delays puberty.
Studies have shown that pharmacological management of precocious puberty can help children to develop into adulthood physically at a later point, which is important for the to reach their full adult height. Treatment may take up to one month to begin working and can be ceased when the child, parents and clinician decide that it is time for puberty to recommence.