The Period of maturation of sexual and physical characteristics is known as puberty. When these bodily changes happen before time it is known as ‘precocious puberty.’
Precocious puberty is when a child’s body begins changing into that of an adult (puberty) too soon. Puberty that begins before age 8 in girls and before age 9 in boys is considered precocious puberty.
The exact age of puberty depends upon several factors like family history, nutrition and gender. The usual onset of puberty in girls is between 10-14 years and between 12 -16 years for boys. A common definition for precocious puberty is onset of puberty before 8 years in girls or 9 years in boys.
However puberty may start at an earlier age in some ethnic groups like African American girls (around 9 years) and Caucasian girls (around 7 years), which is normal and not considered to be precocious puberty.
Girls with precocious puberty show an increase in height, early development of breasts, external genitals, underarm and pubic hair, and early onset of menstruation. Boys show an increase in height and muscle mass, early deepening of voice, development of facial, underarm and pubic hair and enlargement of penis and testicles.
It has been observed that generally there is no underlying cause for precocious puberty in girls, while in the case of boys early onset of puberty is more likely to be associated with some underlying medical problem.
Hormonal problems, brain tumors and infection are among the causes implicated in causing precocious puberty. Starting puberty early is inherited in 5% boys as compared to less than 1% among girls.
Hormonal studies as well as imaging tests like CT scan are used to rule out any underlying cause of precocious puberty. The underlying cause of precocious puberty should be treated. Hormones may be administered to delay the development of puberty.