Dwarfism: Causes, Symptoms And Associated Disorders

A growth disturbance exhibited by some unusually short people.

The process by which humans move from prenatal to adulthood is complex and fraught with potential complications. There are, for example, many genetic diseases that affect height and that can significantly worsen the quality of life of the person if the appropriate measures are not taken. Dwarfism, for example, is one of these anomalies.

People who present dwarfism in any of its variants can not only suffer the consequences of having to interact with spaces and architectures that are not designed for them, but also tend to present some complications related to movement and the use of the joints. and, on the other hand, they are at greater risk of feeling psychological distress related to self-esteem and self-concept.

Let’s see what this anomaly consists of.

What is dwarfism?

Dwarfism is an alteration in the stature of the person, which is well below average. That is, taking as a reference the mean height in each population group divided by sex, the person with dwarfism does not reach the minimum marked by three standard deviations from the mean.

Why is it not a disease

Dwarfism is not in itself  a disease or disorder, but the expression of certain developmental disorders that can cause diseases to appear in parallel with slow or limited growth.

Strictly speaking, people with dwarfism are only characterized by presenting a height much lower than what is indicated by statistical normality, which in itself does not necessarily lead to significant health problems.

In practice, however, this does lead to problems, especially with regard to weight distribution and its effect on the joints, since many of the individuals with this alteration are not only lower than normal, but their proportions are also they are very different from an adult person without dwarfism.

For example, in many cases the head is proportionally very large ( macrocephaly ) and the limbs are very short, which causes the thorax to lean forward to maintain an upright position and the head to tilt back to maintain a center of gravity. stable. This causes problems over time.

However, the characteristics of people with dwarfism vary greatly depending on the cause of this alteration.

The distinction between short stature and dwarfism

Usually, this “height threshold” that serves to delimit where dwarfism begins is located approximately 140 cm in men and 160 cm in women. Although this criterion can be nuanced, since it also depends on the height of the parents, it is understood that even in very short people it is normal for the size of the offspring to tend to approach statistical normality, a phenomenon known as regression to the mean .

In addition, other measurements can be taken as a reference to determine cases of dwarfism. For example, the presence of macrocephaly (head size larger than expected in proportion to what the rest of the body occupies) is associated with many cases of this anomaly, although it can also appear in people of normal height.

In cases in which the person is unusually short but no disease associated with this characteristic or a specific cause is found and the body proportions are normal, it is considered that they are not examples of dwarfism and are called “idiopathic short stature”. assuming they are the simple expression of inherited genes.

Types of dwarfism according to the causes

As we have seen, dwarfism is an anomaly derived from the expression of certain diseases that do not have to resemble each other in origin.

The most common diseases that cause the appearance of dwarfism are the following:


This disease produces about 70% of cases of dwarfism. It is genetically rooted and is expressed before birth, causing the limbs and thorax not to grow as much as the head due to abnormalities in the formation of cartilage.

Celiac Disease

It has been seen that the disease that causes problems in cases in which gluten is ingested is also associated with the appearance of dwarfism as one of its symptoms.

Growth hormone problems

In this type of dwarfism the cause is found in a deficient secretion of growth hormone by the  pituitary gland of the  brain. These cases can be corrected by adding more of this substance artificially.


A deficiency in bone development due to problems in mineralizing these structures with sufficient amounts of phosphorus and calcium. In this disease the bones are weak and break easily, in addition to not reaching the expected size.

Possible psychological interventions

People with dwarfism do not have to develop psychological problems, but their social fit problems and the possible appearance of discomfort related to the symptoms of associated diseases can make them a potentially vulnerable population group.

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