At a certain stage in late childhood and early teenage, dramatic changes start to happen to one’s body. We see the tiny voice of a once little boy start to deepen and his shoulders widen. In girls, we also notice signs of a gradual shift into womanhood. In Nigeria, this happens around the ages of 8-14. Some may occur in earlier years(precocious puberty). In some girls, periods do not start even after they have clocked 16 years. In this case, we say they have delayed puberty.
What Is Delayed Puberty?
Delayed puberty is said to occur in girls when they have not developed secondary sexual characteristics by age 14 or menstrual periods do not begin after age 16. Secondary sexual characteristics in girls are those changes you notice by puberty. The breasts and buttocks start to grow and the hips widen among other changes. If nothing of this sort happens by age 14, then puberty is delayed. Sometimes, these changes happen to a girl but she experiences delay in seeing her first period. If this lasts up till age 16, there is delayed puberty.
What Causes It?
In many cases of delayed puberty, the growth changes eventually happen although they come later than usual. These people are referred to as late bloomers. The tendency runs in families so a girl may be experiencing delayed puberty because her mother did too. This is the most common cause.
Another reason is the lack of body fat. Generally, it has been noticed that puberty tends to start early in girls who are well-fed compared to less privileged girls. Poor nutrition is not the only reason for little body fat. Girls who participate in sports may have less body fat. Eating disorders such as anorexia or bulimia nervosa also cause less body fat.
These body changes are a result of hormones such as estrogen. What happens when there’s little or no production of the hormones? Puberty is delayed. This is exactly what happens in hypogonadism. Here, the ovaries produce too little or no hormones. Sometimes, it’s because they are poorly formed or damaged. Many medical conditions can also cause hypogonadism. These include hypothyroidism, diabetes mellitus, liver and kidney disease.
What Can Be Done?
The moment a parent notices that puberty appears to be late, they should take their child to a hospital. Your doctor will conduct a series of test to determine the reason for the delay and treat accordingly. Some girls may need to gain more weight. If delayed puberty is caused by a disease or an eating disorder, treating the cause may help puberty to develop normally. Some girls have to get hormone therapy in form of estrogen pills before puberty can start.