Precocious Sexual Development
(Precocious Sexual Development, Premature Puberty)
Precocious puberty is the unusually early onset of puberty. Typically, this is before:
- Age 8 years in girls
- Age 9 years in boys
Puberty is a complex process of brain, body, and hormonal development. If your child begins puberty at an early age, it may just be a variation in the range of what is considered normal.
In about 25%-75% of affected boys, this condition is due to underlying medical conditions. However, for many girls and some boys the cause is unknown.
In rare cases, precocious puberty may be caused by conditions such as:
- Congenital adrenal hyperplasia
- McCune-Albright syndrome
- Tumors or disorders of the testicles, ovaries, or adrenal gland
- hCG-secreting tumors
- Hypothalamic hamartoma (HH)—a rare benign brain tumor near the hypothalamus
- Severe hypothyroidism
- Acute head trauma
- Central nervous system infection
- Radiation therapy
- Taking estrogen in girls
- Taking male sex hormones in boys
Abnormalities in Adrenal Glands or Hypothalamus May Lead to Precocious Puberty
Precocious puberty is more common in girls, and in Black or Hispanic populations. Other factors that may increase your child's chance of precocious puberty include:
- Family history—some cases may run in families
- Head injury
- Infection in brain
- History of radiation therapy to the brain
- Taking sex hormones
- Some studies have suggested a link between obesity and premature puberty
Symptoms of precocious puberty in girls may include:
- Development of breasts, pubic hair, and underarm hair
- Ovary enlargement
- Cysts on ovaries
- Menstrual bleeding
Symptoms of precocious puberty in boys may include:
- Growth of penis and testicles
- Development of pubic and underarm hair
- Muscle growth
- Voice changes
- Facial hair
Symptoms in both boys and girls include:
- Body odor
- Behavior changes
- Growth spurt
You will be asked about your child’s symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done. An assessment of puberty milestones and growth will be done. Your child may be referred to an endocrinologist, a doctor who specializes in hormonal, glandular, and metabolic disorders.
Imaging tests are used to evaluate bodily structures. These may include:
Your child's bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Talk with your child's doctor about the best treatment plan. Treatment options include:
Different medications can be used to treat precocious puberty depending on the type. These medications stop or slow sexual development. They also halt the rapid bone growth and encourage normal growth.
Developing before their peers may cause social challenges in some children. Psychological support may be helpful. Talk to your child's doctor about what options are available.
Treatment of Underlying Conditions
If an underlying condition is the cause of precocious puberty, treatment will involve treating the specific medical problem.
Surgery may be needed if the early puberty is caused by a tumor or other lesions. The procedure will depend on the location and size of the tumor.
There are no current guidelines to prevent precocious puberty.
National Institute of Child Health and Human Development
Kids Health—Nemours Foundation
About Kid's Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
Baron J, Barnes K. Regulation of skeletal growth. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development: Annual report of the Division of Intramural Research; 2004.
Blondell RD, Foster MB, Kamlesh CD. Disorders of puberty. Am Fam Physician. 1999;60(1):209-218.
Cesario SK, Hughes LA. Precocious puberty: A comprehensive review of literature. J Ob Gyn Neonatal Nurs. 2007;36(3):263-274.
Himes JH, Obarzanek E, Baranowski T, et al. Early sexual maturation, body composition, and obesity in African-American girls. Obesity Research. 2004;12 Suppl:64S-72S.
Papathanasiou A, Hadjiathanasiou C. Precocious puberty. Ped Endocr Rev. 2006;3:182-187.
Precocious puberty. EBSCO DynaMed Plus website. Available at: http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114717/Precocious-puberty. Updated January 8, 2016. Accessed September 28, 2016.
Puberty and precocious puberty. National Institute of Child Health and Human Development website. Available at: http://www.nichd.nih.gov/health/topics/puberty/Pages/default.aspx. Updated December 16, 2013. Accessed June 6, 2016.
VN Brito, AC Latronico, Arnhold IJ, Mendonca BB. Update on the etiology, diagnosis and therapeutic management of sexual precocity. Arq Bras Endrocrinol Metab. 2008; 52(1):18-31.
Wang Y. Is obesity associated with early sexual maturation? A comparison of the association in American boys versus girls. Pediatrics. 2002;110(5):903-910.
12/13/2010 DynaMed Plus Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.dynamed.com/topics/dmp~AN~T114717/Precocious-puberty: Biro FM, Galvez MP, Greenspan LC, et al. Pubertal assessment method and baseline characteristics in a mixed longitudinal study of girls. Pediatrics. 2010;126(3):e583-e590.
Last reviewed June 2016 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.