There are several glands in the body that produce hormones, but the pituitary is considered the master control gland. Not only does it control other glands but it also makes the hormone that triggers growth.
The pituitary gland is located in the brain below the hypothalamus. It secretes hormones in response to chemical messages from the hypothalamus.
The human growth hormone (HGH) helps to influence height, as well as build bones and muscles in the body. It is crucial for processes involved in normal human growth and development.
Genetic factors can lead to a lack of HGH in children. Damage to the pituitary gland is a common cause of a deficiency in adults.
Why use human growth hormone?
HGH medication can help children and adults who have a growth hormone deficiency.
Different hormones control various body functions and processes, including growth and development, metabolism, sexual function and reproduction, and mood.
HGH is essential to growth, especially in children, but it is also involved in many other processes in the body, including bone density, muscle mass, and mood.
It helps process protein and increases fat breakdown to help provide the energy needed for tissue growth.
Growth hormone levels can change through the day, and physical activity plays a part.
Exercise and similar activities can cause the levels to rise naturally. Sleep, stress, and low blood sugar levels also increase growth hormone levels.
Even small changes in HGH levels affect the body.
Some people use HGH because they believe it will build muscle, improve performance, or slow aging. However, the existing evidence does not support the use of HGH for these purposes.
Children with low levels of lack of HGH may or may not be smaller at birth. Growth problems may appear in time, for example, if they are smaller than their classmates and growing less than 2 inches a year.
Some children are unable to produce HGH when they are born and continue to have low levels throughout their life.
Symptoms of HGH deficiency in children are:
- looking much younger than other children their age
- having a chubby body build
- impaired hair growth
- delayed puberty
In some children, a lack of HGH is part of a genetic condition, but sometimes the cause of the deficiency is unknown.
In adults, a lack of HGH is often due to damage to the pituitary gland, which may be permanent. The damage could have occurred in childhood or adulthood.
Other causes include:
Problems in the pituitary with producing HGH are commonly due to a pituitary tumor.
The pituitary can be damaged by the tumor itself or by treatment such as surgery and radiotherapy.
In adults, a lack of HGH can cause a number of different problems including:
- anxiety and depression
- increased fat around the waist
- increased risk of heart disease and stroke
- weak heart
- weak muscles and bones
- reduced ability to think
- other conditions
Growth hormone deficiency can also be a combination of one or more hormone deficiencies.
Some medical conditions also require HGH treatment.
- Turner's syndrome: Women with this condition generally have underdeveloped female sexual characteristics.
- Prader-Willi syndrome: A genetic disorder causes weak muscle tone, feeding difficulties, poor growth, and delayed development.
- Noonan syndrome: This genetic disorder interferes with the proper development of various part of the body.
- Chronic kidney disease
The most common treatment in both adults and children is growth hormone therapy using lab-developed HGH injections.
HGH can be given by injection at home or at the doctor's office.
The growth hormone is designed to mimic the behavior of natural HGH in the body. It will be prescribed by a doctor. Doses will be administered several times per week or on a daily basis depending on how severe the deficiency is.
HGH treatments can be self-administered or given by a doctor. Treatments are often given for several years. Patients will see their doctor every month or so to check their condition.
Blood tests will be carried out to see if extra growth hormone is needed and if treatments should be increased, decreased, or stopped. Cholesterol levels, blood sugar levels, and bone density will also be checked to see if they are healthy.
Taking growth hormone can affect the body's response to insulin, which controls blood sugar levels. Growth hormone deficiency can also lead to high cholesterol and brittle bones if it is not treated.
Specific treatment for growth hormone deficiency depends on the person.
It is based on certain factors, such as:
- overall health and medical history
- extent of the condition
- tolerance for specific treatment
- treatment expectations
- patient's choice
The earlier the lack of HGH is treated in children, the better chance they have to grow to a near-normal adult height.
Children can gain as many as 4 inches or more over the first 3 years of treatment. Another 3 inches or more can grow during the next 2 years.
Many adults have to take HGH treatment for the remainder of their life.
Anyone who is taking HGH will undergo regular monitoring to assess for safety and effectiveness.
The goal of growth hormone treatments in adults and children is to restore energy, metabolism, and enhance body development or shape. It can help to reduce total body fat, especially around the belly.
HGH injections can also help to improve strength and exercise tolerance and reduce the risk of heart disease in those who lack growth hormone.
Many people experience an increase in overall quality of life.
Risks and side effects
Most people handle HGH injection treatments well with few problems.
However, possible side effects include:
- muscle aches
- joint discomfort
- swelling of the hands and feet
Those who experience these symptoms or other problems should talk to their doctor. They can change the dose if necessary to help remedy the symptoms.
HGH injections are not recommended for people who have:
- serious illness
- severe breathing problems
- multiple injuries
- complications from open heart or abdominal surgery
HGH can affect insulin usage in the body, so people with diabetes should monitor their blood sugar levels carefully.
Other treatments may be required depending on the cause of the HGH deficiency.
Surgery or radiation may be necessary to treat a tumor in the pituitary. Pituitary hormones may also have to be taken to correct a gland that is not working properly.
Too much human growth hormone
If the levels of HGH are too high in adults, they may experience:
Long-term use of HGH injections can cause a condition called acromegaly.
Adults cannot grow taller by using the synthetic growth hormone. High doses will thicken the person's bones instead of lengthening them.
People with acromegaly will experience an overgrowth of bones, particularly in the hands, feet, and face.
The skin area can also be affected and may turn thick, coarse, and hairy. The excess HGH levels can also lead to high blood pressure and heart disease.
Athletes use HGH to build muscle mass and enhance performance, but this is not legal in competitive sports in the U.S.
HGH injections have also become popular for nonmedical usage. Body builders and athletes sometimes use them to help them get larger muscles, more energy, and increased stamina.
They are considered performance-enhancing drugs and are banned in professional sports.
HGH injections are also advertised as an anti-aging or weight loss treatment.
Many people aim to help increase their energy as well as fight the decrease in muscle and bone mass that happens with aging.
The Endocrine Society do not recommend HGH injections for adults or children unless they have a growth hormone deficiency.
There is not enough evidence available to prove that HGH injections can make an athlete better or slow down the aging process, and there may be adverse effects, especially fluid retention.
Using them for any nonmedical reason is illegal in the United States.
HGH injections are designed for adults or children who have a lack of growth hormone and should only be prescribed by a doctor.
Children and adults with low levels of growth hormone should ensure they have plenty of sleep, a balanced diet, regular exercise, and that they follow medical advice.
People seem interested in using HGH to have a more athletic body, to perform better in sports and to prevent aging. Is this a good idea?
HGH is a potent drug that can cause significant side effects. Therefore, the best bet is to look at this from the perspective of benefit vs risk. Do the potential benefits outweigh the risks?
For those without HGH deficiency, the answer is no. There is very little data that HGH helps people with normal levels.
It may improve lean body mass in athletes and older adults, but it does not seem to improve strength or performance.
It also does not improve risk factors for chronic diseases like diabetes or heart disease. There is no reliable evidence it can prevent aging.MNT Medical Network Answers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.