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Reston Hospital Center
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Pediatric Emergency Room
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Delayed Sexual Development

Definition

Girls enter puberty between the ages of 7-13. Boys enter this stage between the ages of 9-14. When this stage is late, it is called delayed sexual development.

Causes

This condition can be caused by:

  • Constitutional delay
    • Some children simply take longer than their peers; they will catch up at some point
    • This is the most common cause of delayed puberty in boys and girls
  • Chronic illness
  • Malnutrition or significant weight loss, such as with anorexia nervosa
  • Hypogonadism—not enough male or female sex hormones
    • Hypogonadotropic, such as Kallmann syndrome—the brain can't make the hormones that stimulate male or female sex hormones
    • Hypergonadotropic—the male testis or female ovary can't make sex hormones
  • Other endocrine diseases, such as hypothyroidism or Cushing's disease
  • Chromosomal abnormalities:
  • Hypopituitarism caused by infection, trauma, and central nervous system lesions—destroys the ability to make hormones that stimulate male or female sex hormones

Risk Factors

Factors that may increase the chance of delayed puberty include:

Complications From Cystic Fibrosis
mucous plug aveoli and pancrease
Copyright © Nucleus Medical Media, Inc.

Symptoms

One common symptom for both boys and girls is being short for their age. Other symptoms by gender include:

  • Symptoms in boys:
    • Lack of testicular enlargement by age 14
    • Sex organs that don’t completely develop within 5 years after they started to develop
  • Symptoms in girls:
    • Lack of breast development by age 13
    • Lack of menstruation 2 ½ years or more after initial breast development

Diagnosis

You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. Your child's milestones and growth record will be reviewed. An x-ray of the left wrist bones will be taken to assess bone age. This will help to assess if bone development is normal for your child’s current level of pubertal development.

Your child's hormone levels will be tested. This can be done with blood tests.

Images may be taken of your child's bodily structures if the cause needs to be further identified. This can be done with:

Treatment

No treatment is usually needed for those who are healthy and just starting later than their peers. They will continue to be monitored.

Other treatment depends on the cause. For those who have a chronic underlying disease, treatment is aimed at the specific condition. After the condition is treated, puberty often begins on its own.

For others, treatments may include:

Sex Hormone Replacement

Sex hormones will help start sexual development. They will be given to those who cannot make their own, such children with chromosomal abnormalities. This can include Turner syndrome or Klinefelter syndrome.

Hormones may also be given to teens who are severely delayed or overly stressed by their lack of development. They may stimulate the onset of normal puberty.

Psychological Support

Counseling may be suggested for adolescents who are struggling with the delay. This may help the child cope with social pressures.

Ongoing Monitoring

Your child’s height, weight, and sexual development will continue to be monitored. This will help determine if any treatment has been effective.

Prevention

Most causes of delayed sexual development cannot be prevented. To help reduce the chance, make sure your child maintains a healthy lifestyle. This includes making sure your child is eating well and getting nutrients. Make sure any underlying illness is treated.

Revision Information

  • Family Doctor—The American Academy of Family Physicians

    http://familydoctor.org

  • Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics

    http://www.healthychildren.org

  • About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children

    http://www.aboutkidshealth.ca

  • Caring for Kids—Canadian Paediatric Society

    http://www.caringforkids.cps.ca

  • Delayed puberty. Healthy Children—American Academy of Pediatrics website. Available at: http://www.healthychildren.org/English/ages-stages/gradeschool/puberty/Pages/Delayed-Puberty.aspx. Updated November 21, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2016.

  • Delayed puberty. Kids Health—Nemours Foundation website. Available at: http://kidshealth.org/teen/sexual%5Fhealth/changing%5Fbody/delayed%5Fpuberty.html. Updated January 2015. Accessed November 23, 2016.

  • Delayed puberty. Patient UK website. Available at: http://www.patient.co.uk/doctor/delayed-puberty. Updated July 9, 2015. Accessed November 23, 2016.

    Delayed puberty/sexual development in children. Boston Children’s Hospital website. Available at: http://www.childrenshospital.org/conditions-and-treatments/conditions/delayed-puberty-delayed-sexual-development. Accessed November 23, 2016.

  • Female delayed puberty. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T115697/Female-delayed-puberty. Updated November 9, 2016. Accessed November 23, 2016.

  • Male delayed puberty. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T116902/Male-delayed-puberty. Updated November 9, 2016. Accessed November 23, 2016.

    What causes normal puberty, precocious puberty, and delayed puberty. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website. Available at: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/puberty/conditioninfo/Pages/causes.aspx. Updated November 30, 2012. Accessed November 23, 2016.