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Early Puberty: How It Could Affect a Child's Health

9:22 AM, Nov 16, 2010   |    comments
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Columbia, SC (WLTX) -- Puberty can be an awkward time in any child's life, but early puberty is even more challenging. Imagine going through those changes before anyone else understands them.

For Reggie Richardson, it is important to keep his priorities straight.

"Play basketball, play baseball, watch TV, [and] play my game," Reggie said.

He is in fifth grade, after all, and acts like any other kid his age.

But Reggie's mother, Altheal Richardson, noticed differences.

"He's developing up real fast, but he still has that mind set of a child," Altheal said."First grade, kindergarten, first grade, he started developing the hair and I was like 'no, something's not right'."

Reggie's body launched him into early puberty.

"At that age, there's no, no 6-year-old should be having hair, like that," Altheal said.  "I couldn't figure out why this was going on with him and I was wondering if I was doing something wrong or was it something hormonal going on with him, I really didn't know what to think about it."

Reggie's mother decided to take him to Pediatric Endocrinologist, Dr. Malaka Jackson.

"I think if a parent were noticing early signs of puberty, I would definitely bring it up to the primary care provider," Jackson said.

She said any sign of puberty in a girl under the age of eight and a boy under the age of nine is considered premature, but you need to look for the signals.

"For girls the first sign of puberty is breast development and for boys it's that the testicles enlarge," Jackson said.

You could also notice pubic hair, underarm odor, acne, or vaginal discharge.

"For some families it's not a concern because they feel this is what was meant to be for their child and they don't want to intervene," Jackson explained.

But the causes of early puberty can be worrisome.

"We are worried obviously if there is a tumor or some sort of disorder either in the pituitary gland, the hypothalamus meaning the brain or the adrenal glands, we worry about that," Jackson said.

Some cases seem to have no concrete cause.

"Fortunately, there was no tumor as a cause for early development and his adrenal glands seem to be working just fine so he has what we would consider to be idiopathic, where we don't know why his body is sending the signals," Jackson said.

Jackson explained that left alone, early puberty can force kids to grow faster earlier, but not grow for as long as they should, ultimately stunting their overall growth. It can also be painful emotionally.

"Being different from their peers, here you have a child who's in second grade who looks like they should be sixth, seventh, eighth, ninth grade, but they're really in second grade and how do they interact with their peers, how do their peers treat them?" Jackson asked.

"With him developing fast, you know you got these teenagers out here that's looking at him that he's developing, thinking that 'okay, this is not a 10-year-old child, this is a teenager' and it's frightening," Altheal said.

With medication, Reggie's development has slowed and he is still enjoying being just a kid.

"It's fun, I like being a 10-year-old and I don't want to be an old person," Reggie said.

If you notice any signs of premature development in your children, please consult your primary care physician. Do not be alarmed, there is help available. 

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