Puberty that happens late is called delayed puberty. This means a
child's physical signs of sexual maturity don’t appear by age 12 to 13 in girls or
13 to 14 in boys. This includes breast or testicle growth but can also include pubic
hair and voice changes. These are known as secondary sexual characteristics.
Gender words are used here to talk about anatomy and health risk. Please use
this information in a way that works best for you and your provider as you talk about
Delayed puberty most often has no known cause. In some cases, it may run in families.
In other cases, it may be caused by any of these:
- Chromosomal problems
- Genetic disorder
- Chronic illness
- Tumors of the pituitary gland or hypothalamus
- Underactive pituitary gland (hypopituitarism)
- Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
- Abnormal development of the reproductive system
- Inability of the body to use androgen hormones (complete androgen insensitivity syndrome)
- Too much exercise
- Severe lack of eating (anorexia) or an
issue with absorption of food
A child is at risk for delayed
puberty if they have any of these:
- Parents or siblings with delayed puberty
- Chronic health conditions
- Congenital syndrome
- An eating disorder
The symptoms are a lack of secondary sexual characteristics.
Common signs in girls can include:
- No breast growth by age 12
- More than 5 years between first breast growth and first menstrual period
- No menstrual period by age 15
Common signs in boys can include:
- No testicular enlargement by age 14
- No pubic hair by age 15
- More than 5 years to complete adult genital growth
The signs of delayed puberty can be
like other health conditions. Make sure your child sees their healthcare provider
In addition to a complete health
history and physical exam, a diagnosis of delayed puberty may include:
Blood tests. These are done to check hormone levels, look
for chromosomal problems, and check for chronic disorders that may delay puberty.
These may include diabetes, celiac disease, hypercortisolism, or anemia.
X-ray. This test uses a small amount of radiation to make
images of tissues inside the body. An X-ray may be done of the left hand and wrist.
This can estimate your child's bone age. With delayed puberty, bone age is often less
than calendar age.
CT scan. This test uses a series of X-rays and a computer
to make detailed images of the body. A CT scan can show bones, muscles, fat, and
organs. CT scans are more detailed than regular X-rays.
MRI. This test uses large magnets and a computer to make
detailed images of tissues in the body without the use of X-rays.
Your child's healthcare
provider will consider your child's age, overall health, and other factors when advising
Treatment for delayed puberty depends on the cause of the problem. In many cases,
when the cause is treated, puberty proceeds normally. If the delayed puberty is inherited,
no treatment is usually needed. In some cases, treatment may be done with hormone
therapy. This helps to cause secondary sexual characteristics to occur. In other cases,
surgery may be done to correct a physical problem.
Delayed puberty can cause embarrassment and stress for adolescents.
In time, most adolescents with delayed puberty will develop normally
and not have ongoing problems. Some causes will need treatment with hormones. Emotional
support can help adolescents deal with their delayed puberty.
When to Call a Healthcare Provider
Call your child’s healthcare provider if your child shows signs of delayed puberty.
- Puberty that happens late is called
delayed puberty. This means a child's physical signs of sexual maturity don’t appear
by age 12 to 13 in girls or age 13 to 14 in boys.
- This includes breast or testicular
growth, pubic hair, and voice changes. These are known as secondary sexual
- Delayed puberty may run in families.
- Treatment depends on the cause of the problem. In many cases, when the cause is treated,
puberty proceeds normally.
- Delayed puberty can cause
embarrassment and stress for adolescents. Emotional support can help adolescents deal
with their delayed puberty.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
- Know the reason for the visit and what you want to happen.
- Before your visit, write down questions you want answered.
- At the visit, write down the name of a
new diagnosis and any new medicines, treatments, or tests. Also write down any new
instructions your provider gives you for your child.
- Know why a new medicine or treatment
is prescribed and how it will help your child. Also know what the side effects
- Ask if your child’s condition can be treated in other ways.
- Know why a test or procedure is recommended and what the results could mean.
- Know what to expect if your child does not take the medicine or have the test or procedure.
- If your child has a follow-up appointment, write down the date, time, and purpose
for that visit.
- Know how you can contact your child’s provider after office hours. This is important
if your child becomes ill and you have questions or need advice.