Early and Late Puberty in Girls – Symptoms and Ways to Prevent Early and Delayed Onset
Puberty is a crucial phase of life that every child has to go through. When it comes to girls, most get through it on time, some slightly early or some slightly late within the normal range. However, there are two extreme sides of puberty, one is getting too early and the other is delayed. Both these conditions may raise concerns.
Let’s learn about these two extreme sides of puberty in girls one by one.
Early puberty is also known as precocious puberty. When puberty begins in a girl who is less than 8 years of age and boy aged under 9, it is known as precocious puberty. In this condition, growth in bones, muscles body shape, size, and reproductive organs occur rapidly.
For the past two decades, experts are trying to decipher this mystery in young girls. According to scientists, typically, breast development occurring in 11 years old a generation ago, is now frequently occurring in 7-8 years old girls. In the days of playing with dolls and toys, early puberty could be quite unsettling for her.
In countries like India, the situation is alarming. More and more girls in urban areas are hitting puberty at the age of 8. According to Dr. Vaishaki Rustagi, Associate Consultant - Pediatric Endocrinology, Max Super Speciality Hospital, Delhi, the onset of early puberty can put a girl at increased risk of sexual urge. This could be dangerous and insecure as she is not completely mature at the mental level, not enough to practically maneuver these urges. And the unwanted attention from the opposite sex could be troubling not only for the girl but also for parents as well.
While exact cause of early puberty is often unknown, experts believe it has something to do with the hormone disorders, brain injuries or abnormalities, and tumors.
There are mainly two types of precocious puberty; central precocious puberty and peripheral precocious puberty, the latter being the most common.
- Central Precious puberty - In this type of precocious puberty, the process of puberty begins too soon while the pattern and timing remain normal.
- Peripheral Precocious puberty – This type is associated with changes in estrogen and testosterone hormone in girls.
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Early puberty risk factors in girls
As mentioned, the exact cause is still not known, the following risk factors can increase the odds of early puberty:
- Tumor or defect in brain or spinal cord
- Adrenal gland disorder
- McCune-Albright syndrome which is a rare genetic condition that causes skin, bones and hormonal problems
- Ovarian cysts or tumor in the ovaries
- Exposure to estrogen or testosterone in the form of ointments or cream
- Being obese
Earlier puberty can cause problems such as shorter height. This happens because girls with precocious puberty may grow quickly and look tall against their peers, but as bones mature rapidly than normal, growth stops earlier than usual. When these girls become adults, the height will be shorter than an average adult.
Symptoms of early puberty in girls
Your daughter may experience following symptoms earlier than you expect:
- First menstrual period (menarche) around 10 years
- Breast development before 8 years
- Growth of armpit and pubic hair before 8 years
- Growth of acne at the age of 7-8 years
- Body odor of an adult before age 8
Are there any treatments available for early puberty?
The doctor may want to examine your daughter’s medical history followed by physical examination, blood tests and MRI of the brain. If there is an underlying problem such as tumor, the doctor will be treating that accordingly. After the removal of tumor, the puberty usually stops.
However, if there isn’t any underlying problem, the doctor would recommend a therapy known as Gn-RH analogue therapy. In this procedure, your daughter will be given monthly injection of leuprolide medication which delays the growth process. It will be continuously given, 16 months on an average, until she reaches normal puberty age.
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Late or delayed puberty is the period where a girl or boy passes the normal age of puberty without showing any signs and symptoms of any bodily changes. Normally, a girl hits puberty at 9-11 years of age and some may reach puberty at 12-13 years of age. However, if the girl does not show any signs of puberty until 14-15 years of age, then it is considered as delayed puberty.
Though it is not a cause of concern, the reasons should not be ignored and must be addressed properly.
What could be the reasons for delayed puberty in girls?
Every child develops differently. Sometimes, delayed puberty runs in families. If one of your family members experienced late puberty, then there are chances you might also hit puberty late. It is also called as late bloomer. Other reasons for late puberty include:
- Hormonal problems that affect pituitary and thyroid glands
- Chronic disorders such as diabetes, kidney diseases, and cystic fibrosis
- Eating disorders
- Low hormone production or no production at all
- Cancer treatment methods such as radiotherapy and chemotherapy that affect the ovaries
Symptoms of delayed puberty in girls
In girls with delayed puberty, they can experience one or more of the following symptoms:
- Absence of pubic hair
- Breast growth does not occur until age 13
- Short height
- Uterus growth does not happen
- Menstruation doesn’t occur until 15-16 years of age
Solution - How parents can help in delayed puberty?
Delayed puberty is usually not a cause of concern. However, if you are really worried, you can talk to a gynecologist or a pediatric endocrinologist who is an expert in hormone-related disorders. She may recommend some tests to check the presence of any underlying condition and treat it accordingly.
You must also talk to your daughter and reassure her that this is just a normal phase of life and will pass just like other phases.
Also, make sure your daughter is having a well-balanced diet full of healthy nutrition. You may also take help of psychological counseling that may help your daughter get through the emotional challenges easily.