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Delayed puberty in chronic illness.

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  • 1Department of Paediatric Endocrinology, University Autónoma, Hospital Universitario Infantil Niño Jesús, Avda. Menéndez Pelayo 65, E-28009 Madrid, Spain.


Delayed puberty can be defined as the lack of pubertal development at an age of 2 SD above the mean, which corresponds to an age of approximately 14 years for males and 13 years for females, taking both sex and ethnic origin into consideration. Its incidence associated with chronic illnesses is unknown; however, its clinical importance is relevant due to the larger percentage of patients with chronic disorders surviving until the age of puberty. Virtually every child with any chronic disease could present with delayed puberty (due to recurrent infections, immunodeficiency, gastrointestinal disease, renal disturbances, respiratory illnesses, chronic anaemia, endocrine disease, eating disorders, exercise and a number of miscellaneous abnormalities). Pubertal delay associated with chronic illness is accompanied by a delay in growth and the pubertal growth spurt. The degree to which growth and pubertal development are affected in chronic illness depends upon the type of disease and individual factors, as well as on the age at illness onset, its duration and severity. The earlier its onset and the longer and more severe the illness, the greater the repercussions on growth and pubertal development. The mechanism that trigger the start of physiological puberty remain unknown. Although malnutrition is probably the most important mechanism responsible for delayed puberty, emotional deprivation, toxic substances, stress and the side effects of chronic therapy, among others, have been implicated in the pathophysiology of delayed puberty. Therefore, early diagnosis is essential and appropriate and specific therapy fundamental.

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