Adult Growth Hormone Deficiency

Growth hormone (often referred to as hGH, or simply GH) doesn't just contribute to physical growth in children. Adults need growth hormone, too. In adults, it is essential to maintain healthy body composition and metabolism. When an adult's body is unable to produce enough growth hormone, he or she is said to have adult growth hormone deficiency (AGHD).

The healthy body continues to produce growth hormone even after growth has stopped. Medical research indicates that adults need adequate levels of this hormone to maintain healthy body composition and metabolism. Growth hormone plays an important role in maintaining a normal ratio of body fat to lean mass, "bad" to "good" cholesterol levels, and proper bone mineral density.

AGHD occurs when the pituitary gland (a gland about the size of a pea, located at the base of the brain) does not secrete enough growth hormone. The pituitary gland is often called the "master gland" because it controls many different kinds of hormones. If the pituitary gland is missing or does not function correctly, it may be necessary to replace some or all of the hormones that the gland cannot provide; one of which is growth hormone. In adult patients, pituitary disease occurs as a result of pituitary tumors, pituitary surgery, radiation therapy, or head injury.

Growth hormone therapy is indicated to treat adult growth hormone deficiency and should not be used for "anti-aging" purposes or athletic enhancement.

The two types of AGHD and what you can do about them

Generally, adults with growth hormone deficiency can be divided into two groups: those who were GH-deficient as children and continue to be so as adults (childhood-onset patients), and adults with pituitary disease who became GH-deficient as adults (adult-onset patients).

Signs and symptoms of both childhood-onset and adult-onset AGHD may include:
  • Increased body fat, especially around the abdomen
  • Decreased muscle mass
  • Lower bone mineral density
  • Predisposition to atherosclerosis (hardening of the arteries)