Patient Information

Early (precocious) puberty in children


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This gives you information about early puberty in children (also known as precocious puberty).

What is early (precocious) puberty?

Puberty is when a child’s body begins to  develop and change as they become an adult.

‘Precocious puberty’ is a term that doctors use when a child has started puberty at an early age. They use this term when a girl starts puberty before the age of 8 and a boy starts puberty before the age of 9.

In most cases there is no underlying cause (particularly in girls).  Usually it just means that the hormones which control puberty have been activated earlier.

How do I know if my child has started developing early?

Girl graphicThe most obvious sign of puberty in girls is development of the breasts. They may also grow some pubic and underarm hair. They may have a growth spurt, experience  some vaginal discharge (or sometimes periods) or monthly tummy cramps. They may also have greasy hair and spots (acne) or new body odour.

You may notice that they start to behave like a teenager (a bit moody, irritable and tearful).
Boy graphicThe main signs in boys are developing a larger penis and testicles (also called testes or balls), a deeper voice and a more muscular appearance. They may develop pubic and underarm hair, or greasy hair and spots (acne).

They may also have a growth spurt and become more moody.

Book an appointment with your child’s GP if you notice these changes before your daughter is 8 years old or before your son is 9 years old.

Your child’s GP may refer them to a hospital paediatric (children’s health) outpatient clinic to rule out underlaying health issues causing these signs of early puberty.

What causes early puberty?

It’s not always clear what causes early puberty. Sometimes it is genetic (it runs in the family).

Occasionally it can be caused by an underlying medical problem. This can be discussed with you at a paediatric clinic, where your child may be given some tests to find out why they are experiencing early puberty.

What tests are available?

Your GP or paediatrician may organise one or more of the following tests:

  • blood tests to check hormone levels
  • a hand X ray to determine ‘bone age’ (this indicates likely adult height)
  • an ultrasound scan of the tummy to look at the internal female organs: uterus (womb) and ovaries
  • in certain situations, an MRI scan of the brain.

If your child’s GP or paediatrician recommends tests, they will discuss these with you and your child first.

What treatment is available?

Early puberty can be treated by:

  • treating any underlying medical cause
  • medication to reduce hormone levels temporarily

Treatment with medication is usually only recommended if it is thought early puberty will cause emotional or physical problems. These might include short stature, or early periods in girls (which may cause significant distress).

If your GP or paediatrican recommends medication, the risks and benefits will be discussed with you and your child.

More information

NHS Scotland information on precocious puberty in girls

NHS Scotland information on precocious puberty in boys

NHS information on delayed puberty

Images by Rawpixel.com on Freepik

Early (precocious) puberty in children - Kingston Hospital Download PDF


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