Precocious puberty happens when a child’s body starts to change into the body of an adult too early. Medical experts define this early-onset growth condition as puberty that occurs before age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys. Infections, hormone dysfunction, brain injuries, genetics, and environment can all cause this pediatric disorder. However, precocious puberty also has a significant link with narcolepsy. Here’s what to know about the two conditions and their association.
Normal puberty involves quick growth of muscles and bones, change in the size and shape of the body, and development of the body’s ability to reproduce. When a child undergoes precocious puberty, the following changes occur:
These changes happen early during precocious puberty when a part of the brain called the hypothalamus begins making a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). GnRH causes the body to make female and male hormones (estrogen and testosterone). Dysfunction in the ovaries, testicles, or hormone-making (endocrine) glands of the body may also lead to an extra release of estrogen or testosterone.
If left untreated, precocious puberty often leads to short stature. It can also cause serious issues with behavior and strong emotions. One study reports that children with precocious puberty show an increased likelihood for the following risky behaviors:
As a neurological sleep disorder, narcolepsy is marked by symptoms of:
Narcolepsy sometimes gives a person sudden muscle weakness (cataplexy).
There are two types of narcolepsy: narcolepsy type 1 and narcolepsy type 2. People with narcolepsy type 2 do not have cataplexy but experience severe daytime sleepiness. People with narcolepsy type 1 experience cataplexy and hypersomnia. The lack of the hormone hypocretin causes narcolepsy with cataplexy. Immune system attack on the hypothalamus likely leads to the low levels of hypocretin seen in people who have narcolepsy with cataplexy.
Having precocious puberty carries an association with narcolepsy. Both are rare conditions — narcolepsy has a prevalence of approximately 0.05 percent in the general population, and precocious puberty has a prevalence of 0.015 percent. If a child has narcolepsy with cataplexy, however, their risk of precocious puberty increases to 17 percent. This rate represents an almost 1,000-times higher rate of precocious puberty than in the average person.
Research shows that the younger a person is when they have their first symptoms of narcolepsy with cataplexy, the more likely it is that they have precocious puberty.
Compared to children with type 1 narcolepsy without precocious puberty, several factors are prevalent when a child has precocious puberty:
A doctor may order the following medical tests to diagnose precocious puberty:
A doctor bases the treatment of central precocious puberty on the child’s age and speed of the disorder. If symptoms are worsening quickly, a specialist will likely recommend treatment in the form of GnRH stimulant therapy. This therapy causes an initial flare-up of the symptoms but then helps to decrease them as the brain cells become less sensitive to GnRH.
Besides type 1 narcolepsy, the following factors can raise a child’s risk of precocious puberty:
There are some risk factors that a child cannot change, such as their race and sex. However, a parent or caretaker can do the following to reduce their child’s risk of precocious puberty:
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