Precocious Puberty: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Psychological Effects

signs of early puberty

Precocious Puberty: Symptoms, Risk Factors & Psychological Effects

Getting informed about the signs and risk factors of precocious puberty is a useful tool in assisting your child navigate its physical and psychological effects.

Precocious puberty is fairly rare.

Moreover, the signs of early puberty are not something that will cause long-term physical damage.

But that doesn’t negate the fact that it’s crucial to be able to identify its signs early on in your child.

Signs of early puberty (aka precocious puberty) predominantly include sexual maturation before the usual age.

Some common symptoms are early period, breast development, pubic hair growth, deepening of voice, and facial hair growth, depending on the sex of the child.

If your child has been diagnosed with early puberty, though, treat them well as they barely know what it could be.

Not to mention, the effects of sudden physical changes can weigh heavily on their minds.

Having said that, there are many factors involved in early puberty. 

This blog aims to help you identify the signs of early puberty, what causes early puberty in females and males, and what you can do about it.

 

First Signs and Symptoms of Early Puberty

Symptoms of early-onset puberty can develop before age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys.

While many of the causes are unknown and unavoidable, some can be efficiently removed if the reasons include a cyst or a tumor.

Thus, to enable early diagnosis and treatment, we’ll firstly cater to the topic by detailing the main signs of early puberty. 

First off, signs of precocious puberty are experienced differently by boys and girls. 

 

Precocious Puberty Symptoms in Girls

  • Early breast development.
  • Spurred height early on but compromised growth as the child reaches adulthood. Usually, a growth spurt before 8.
  • Menstruation before 10.

These were some of the early signs of puberty in girls

While they are similar to the normal first signs of puberty in females, the only difference is the timing that makes it worrisome for many parents and even the child.

Now, moving forward, let’s enlist some of the early signs of puberty in boys.

 

Precocious Puberty Symptoms in Boys

  • Development of testicles, penis, and scrotum.
  • Frequent or spontaneous erections.
  • Deepened voice.
  • Facial, underarm, and early pubic hair growth.
  • Acne.

Girls and boys with these physical maturation signs are often body conscious. 

Further lack of support can show up as depression, poor self-confidence, and even substance abuse.

 

How Common is Precocious Puberty?

Well, it’s a rare health condition affecting 1 out of 5,000 children. 

However, being rare doesn’t make it any less stressful, both for the parents and children. 

So, what factors should be held responsible for the signs of early puberty? To simply put, what causes precocious puberty

 

Types and Causes of Early Puberty

Medical science and other sources call the occurrence of this condition idiopathic

In other words, the causes are unknown. Hence, there’s no such clinical trace or evidence to find out the exact cause of early puberty

However, precocious puberty can often be the result of some health triggers from the past or an underlying one. 

Well, for a better understanding of the triggers, we firstly should know about the different types of precocious puberty

 

Two Types of Precocious Puberty

The types of early puberty are broadly classified as:

#1. Central Precocious Puberty (CPP)

In CPP, the secretion of gonadotropins by the brain, at a very young age, leads to precocious puberty. 

Children facing CPP experience the signs of puberty but only earlier, which basically means they will experience the classic signs of precocious puberty. However, the triggers are relatively unknown.

Note: Gonadotropins are hormones responsible for causing the testicles or ovaries to produce other sex hormones, i.e., testosterone and estrogen.

#2. Peripheral Precocious Puberty (PPP)

This type of precocious puberty, PPP, is not as common as the CPP. 

This occurs because of the early production of androgen and estrogen, before the age of normal puberty.

Here, the brain and pituitary gland have nothing to do with the secretion of these hormones. Rather it’s a localized issue with the testicles, ovaries, or an underactive thyroid gland.

Both the precocious puberty types not only result in the signs of early puberty differently but also constitute some health triggers.

 

What Causes Precocious Puberty?

The triggers may vary and can fall under both the categories of precocious puberty. 

Below-listed are some of the possible causes of precocious puberty:

  • Nervous system abnormalities
  • Tumor in the pituitary gland
  • Family history
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Tumor in ovary or testes 
  • Adrenal gland disorder
  • McCune-Albright Syndrome

The first four triggers in the bullets are caused due to central precocious puberty, and the remaining comes under peripheral precocious puberty.

Additionally, few of the other risk factors can trigger or worsen the signs of precocious puberty

 

Risk Factors of Precocious Puberty

While the triggers might vary according to the types, a few risk factors can increase the chances of having precocious puberty

Below are some of the risk factors linked to the signs of early puberty:

#1. Gender

A clinical report assessed girls are 10 times more prone to have precocious puberty than boys. 

However, that doesn’t seclude or decrease the chances of boys experiencing signs of early puberty.

#2. Race

African-American girls hit puberty roughly a year before white girls. 

Now, this might happen because of the anatomy or the inherited biological structure. 

However, there is no such concrete research to evaluate the degree of truth.

#3. Family History

Children whose parents have had early puberty are more likely to follow suit and have the signs of precocious puberty.

#4. Obesity

Researchers point towards the link of obesity with precocious puberty, especially in the case of females.

While there could be other risk factors as well, those mentioned above are primarily common. 

 

Okay, so far we talked about the causes, types, and signs of early puberty

However, little did we discuss the degree of impact it can cast on the children facing the same. 

Hence, we’ve compiled the next section, with the sole purpose of detailing the physical and psychological effects of early puberty so that you can take the precautionary steps.

 

Physical and Psychological Effects of Early Puberty

The signs of early puberty bring along several physical as well as psychological repercussions for the children suffering from it.

Psychological effects of precocious puberty

We discussed the major part of the physical effects at the beginning of the blog. To recall, those with precocious puberty experience very early and rapid development of their sex organs.

Most importantly, they might experience stunted body growth. It means that the initial phase of their puberty may trigger a sudden spurt in height. 

However, their growth will stop as soon as puberty reaches the maturation point. 

As a result, children with precocious puberty might not be able to reach their full height potential. 

Why? 

Because their growth factors are hindered at an earlier age than usual. 

These physical effects can subsequently engulf a child with a vicious chain of psychological thoughts. 

 

Some of the psychological effects of precocious puberty are:

  • Lower self-image because of the unusual and unexpected physical changes in and outside the body.
  • Aggressive behavior among boys, followed by increased sex drives. In the case of girls, irritability, emotional breakdown, and frequent mood swings accompany precocious puberty.
  • Children, especially girls, are more prone to be the prey of bullying, teasing, or body shaming by their classmates.
  • Greater risk of depression and anxiety. Again more common among girls than boys. Moreover, it may take the shape of a chronic health condition and continue to haunt them even when they grow older.
  • Risk of substance abuse as a result of depression, confusion, and aggression because of having a hard time adjusting to these changes.

Girls might get shamed by their peers for bigger breast size. This makes them extra conscious while walking and undermines their confidence. 

Subsequently, they develop a habit of walking with a hunched shoulder which eventually affects their posture in the long run.

The body-shaming and bullying from other peers can register as trauma in their minds while making them self-conscious about their sexuality as they grow up.

 

 

Not to mention, precocious puberty is often associated with the risk of getting engaged in early sexual activity. 

This subsequently has cons like teen pregnancy, STDs, and other sexual complications. Furthermore, it may lead to increased chances of dropouts, lower income, etc.

Thus, life will not seem to be as smooth and white-washed as a ‘Gilmore girls’ episode, after all! 

Thus, it becomes important for you, as a parent, to take charge and offer emotional support to your child. 

Try to look for alternatives and methods that can prevent your child from falling into that vicious cycle of body shaming for developing the signs of early puberty.

So, how can it be done? 

Here are some tips for precocious puberty treatment and its diagnosis.

 

Diagnosis and Treatment of Early Puberty 

A professional pediatric endocrinologist is a ray of hope if your child has the symptoms of precocious puberty.

They’re the specialists of growth and hormonal disorders in children. 

Now, there are two treatment approaches as far as the causes and the signs of early puberty are concerned:

  1. Curing the underlying cause of the disorder
  2. Reducing hormonal levels to prevent premature development

However, before letting your child undergo any type of treatment, find out the type of precocious puberty your child has. And, thereafter, proceed to the treatment accordingly.

 

Precocious Puberty Diagnosis

Your doctor may carry out evaluations and tests including:

  • Tracing and examining the family history 
  • Physical evaluation
  • Blood test to check the hormone level
  • X-rays of hands or wrists to analyze the bone age which help them understand if the bones’ growth is way too exponential.
  • Gonadotropin-releasing hormone test (GnRH) to evaluate hormonal response.

A rise in hormones indicates central precocious puberty. 

On the other hand, a stable hormone level is a sign of peripheral precocious puberty.

It is important to note that the early puberty diagnosis and treatment method may vary from one health institution to the other. And there is no such thing as a single PROVEN treatment for the same.

Again, this doesn’t mean that it cannot be cured. 

 

Precocious Puberty Treatment

Now, after conducting either or all of the above-mentioned tests followed by lab results, the doctor will recommend the treatment accordingly. 

The treatments for early (precocious) puberty include:

#1. GnRH Analogue Therapy

It’s carried out in the case of central precocious puberty by arresting hormonal growth and reducing bone maturation. GnRH Analogue Therapy helps restore the normal growth of the skeletons.

#2. Histrelin Implant

It involves a minor surgical process in which the implants are put under the skin of the upper arm region.

This one is also a treatment option in the case of central precocious puberty. 

Moreover, it’s useful in retarding the growth of bone development to reverse the signs of precocious puberty. In summary, it works by reducing the amount of sex hormones in boys and girls.

#3. Treating the Triggers of Early Puberty

This involves identifying and treating the underlying disease responsible for the cause and signs of early puberty.

While your child undergoes treatment, it’s crucial to be an active supporter.

 

How Can You Help As A Parent?

Apart from professional help, you can do things from your end that can make a bigger difference for your child. 

Communication is key. So, talk your heart out with your child and give them exact details of what’s happening. 

Make them comfortable by making them understand that these changes are normal. However, in their case, it’s a little early, but nothing to worry about.

Apart from this, there are some behavioral measures you should follow as a parent:

  • Don’t make comments about your child’s physical appearance.
  • Observe the reason behind the loss of interest in mundane activities, if any.
  • Praise them for their achievements to motivate them.

All the measures, be it therapeutic or behavioral, will only be helpful if followed with utmost dedication and consistency.

Precocious puberty not only affects a child’s mental state but of their parents too. As a result, they spend half of their time googling symptoms and other questions. 

Now, to bring respite to all your doubts and anxieties, we’ve come up with some FAQs on precocious puberty

 

Frequently Asked Questions About Precocious Puberty 

Below we have some of the questions on early puberty frequently asked by parents.

#1. Is early puberty bad?

Early puberty, aka precocious puberty, can be hard to deal with. This health condition brings along the baggage of physical and psychological distress for your child, often casting long-term effects. For instance, stunted growth, depression, or anxiety.

With that said, the mental effects can be easily tackled with counseling.  

#2. What age is considered early puberty?

An age less than 8 in the case of girls and below 9 in the case of boys is considered as the typical age bar of developing the signs of early puberty. However, it is a rare condition.

#3. Is early puberty linked to early menopause?

The compilation of international studies points towards an interlink between puberty and early menopause. 

Generally, menopause is more likely to occur at the age of 45-50.

On the contrary, precocious puberty, if left untreated, may lead to early menopause before 40.

#4. How to prevent early puberty? 

There are various proven habits you can instill in your child to escape early puberty. 

One can start by helping their children in making healthy lifestyle changes like exercising regularly and adopting healthy eating habits by including fruits and vegetables in their diet. 

Talking about the foods that cause early puberty, avoid too much commercial dairy as they may contain hormones like estrogen. And above all, stay hydrated!

The life of those with precocious puberty is already occupied with questions and confusion. Thus, as a parent, it’s you who should be ensuring all their questions get answered. 

Now, before we call it a conclusion, let us recollect a few points from the discussions we’ve had.

 

The Takeaway Message

Gonadotropins are an integral part of human physiology. However, sometimes, the age at which the body starts developing and exhibiting the associated functions can be a little off for some children.

The fear factors of early puberty unlike any other disorder are seen with a different lens.

To simply put, precocious puberty doesn’t really cast severe physical damage to your child’s body. Instead, this condition primarily entails behavioral and psychological effects.

Thus, it becomes crucial to have an open discussion about the signs of early puberty with your child’s doctor to make the process more transparent and easy. 

Hence, by combining the help from medical professionals, other parents, and peers, you can help your child prevent or even avoid the effects of precocious puberty.

Marcus Elburn
marcus@horizonclinics.org

Dr. Marcus Elburn is an MSc graduate in Therapeutics, Drug Development, and Human Toxicology. Apart from internal medicine and geriatrics, his areas of research interests include integrative medicine, cardiometabolic risk management, endocrinology and metabolism, and pharmacology of sexual function and dysfunction. Read More... About Me

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