Short stature is a general term used to describe a physical height that is significantly below that of others of the same gender and age as the affected individual. It can affect both children and adults, and may have no known cause or may be caused by a range of diseases or disorders. In some cases, it may be treatable or even self-correcting, while in other cases, it is permanent. Showing sensitivity toward those of short stature, particularly children, can be critical to the maintenance of self-esteem.
To identify short stature in a patient, a physician compares the patient’s height to the average height of other individuals of the same gender and age. For children and adolescents, this comparison is usually made using a growth chart. According to criteria established by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, individuals whose height falls within approximately the lowest two percentile for their peer group are considered to be of short stature.
Both children and adults can have a stature that is short. In some cases, extreme shortness has no identifiable cause. Other instances of short stature are caused by conditions such as genetic defects, growth hormone deficiencies, malnutrition, skeletal disorders, and diseases of the heart or kidneys.
Further, a child’s height is not necessarily a predictor of what kind of stature he will have as an adult. Children of average stature may experience a slowing of growth which causes them to have a short stature as adults. Conversely, individuals who had a stature that was considered short as children may reach an average height by adulthood due to treatment of the underlying cause of their shortness. When shortness of stature is caused by permanent conditions like certain genetic mutations and skeletal disorders, however, it is likely to persist for the length of the affected individual’s life.
In many societies, extreme shortness is regarded as a sign of difference or even maligned as a kind of deficiency. Consequently, individuals with short stature, particularly children, may be at risk for developing low self-esteem. Those who have a child with short stature in their lives can help foster self-confidence by refraining from treating him differently than his peers, by avoiding making insensitive jokes or teasing him about his height, and by encouraging him in areas where he excels.