Precocious puberty is a hormone disorder when a child starts going through puberty at an unusually early age. At present, puberty in a girl of 9 or 10 years old is no longer considered unusually early, although it is much earlier than it has been historically. The diagnostic criteria for a definitive diagnosis is:
- In boys, enlargement of the breasts before appearance of pubic hair or the enlargement of the testicles.
- In boys, development of pubic hair or enlargement of testicles before the age of 9 years, 6 months.
- In girls, the development of pubic hair before the age of 8, or breast development before the age of 7.
- In girls, menstruation before the age of 10.
In older children, treatment is generally supportive. Parents often have difficulty when children start to develop so early in life, and children have difficulty dealing with their physical development before the emotional and mental development typical of a person going through puberty at average age. However, in very young patients, there can be other medical complications:
- Bone growth can start too early, eventually resulting in height much shorter than normal
- The early development of hormones can be due to a tumor, which usually has to be treated or removed
- In girls, there can be a risk of sexual interest by boys that the girl is simply not emotionally ready for.
- In boys, higher levels of agreession and risk taking behavior are not uncommon.
Although the condition can be caused by environmental exposure to hormones, other causes aren't clear. Girls who are obese are more likely to develop early. However, several other medical conditions can cause it, such as Langerhans cell histiocytosis, damage to the hypothalamus or pituitary, or even infection or trauma
Where early development poses other risks, drugs can be used to suppress hormone production until the child is older.