Growth Hormone Testing
Growth hormone (GH) testing measures the level of human growth hormone in the blood. GH is a hormone made in the pituitary gland in the brain. Your doctor may order one of the following tests if you have symptoms that suggest a GH abnormality:
- Suppression test—measures the amount of GH that is produced when the pituitary gland is told not to produce any GH
- Stimulation test—measures the function of the pituitary gland to secrete GH when it is told to secrete GH
There are many factors that can interfere with GH testing. Stress, exercise, certain medications, and blood glucose levels can all cause GH levels to rise and fall. For this reason, GH tests are often done with other hormones, like insulin-like growth factor-1 ( IGF-1).
Reasons for Test
Suppression tests are ordered:
- For children who show symptoms of gigantism
- For adults who show signs of acromegaly, a condition marked by abnormally large bone growth
- To check for abnormalities in the function of the pituitary gland
- If a tumor in the pituitary gland is suspected—This is done with another test called IGF-1 that does not vary so much over time.
- To monitor the effectiveness of GH replacement (commonly done with IGF-1 test)
GH stimulation tests are ordered:
- For children who are significantly short for their age
- When thyroid testing rules out a problem with the thyroid but growth is slower than expected
- To check for abnormalities in the function of the pituitary gland
- For children who have had radiation therapy
- For children whose bones are not developing normally
- For adults with symptoms of muscle weakness, lack of energy, thin skin, weak bones, and other symptoms that when taken together, suggest a lack of GH
- For adults with pituitary disorders that increase the risk of growth hormone deficiency
There are no major complications associated with this procedure.
What to Expect
Prior to Test
To prepare for the procedure, most patients will need to:
- Fast for 10-12 hours before the test.
- Reduce physical activity for 10-12 hours before the test.
- If instructed by your doctor, stop taking regularly prescribed medication before the test.
- Ninety minutes before the test, rest and relax. Avoid physical activity.
Description of Test
To Collect Blood
The injection site will be cleaned. An elastic tie will be placed around the upper arm. A needle will be inserted into the vein. The blood will be collected in a vial. Once the vials are full, the needle will be removed from the skin. Pressure will be put on the puncture site.
A blood sample will be taken between 6 am and 8 am. You will be asked to drink a water and glucose (sugar) solution. The glucose should make the GH level in the blood lower. Two more blood samples are taken within one to 2 hours after you have consumed the solution. In each blood sample, the GH level will be measured. IGF-1 levels may also be measured since they do not vary so much.
Insulin Tolerance Test
Blood samples will be drawn 5 times at different intervals. A first sample for blood glucose, cortisol, and growth hormone will be taken between 6 am and 8 am. Then, insulin will be given through the IV. The insulin should make the blood glucose level go down, which should make the GH level go up. Blood samples will be collected at 30, 60, 90, and 120 minutes for glucose, cortisol, and growth hormone.
If the blood sugar has not dropped to a certain level after 45 minutes, a repeat dose of insulin will be given. The blood sample will be collected 75 minutes and 150 minutes later. If the blood sugar levels fall too low, a high dose of sugar will be given by IV, followed by a sugar infusion.
An insulin tolerance test may not be available in all areas.
Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone, Arginine, Growth Hormone-Releasing Peptide
The blood sample will be drawn 5 times at different intervals. The first sample will be taken between 6 am and 8 am. Arginine or GH-releasing peptide will be given through the IV for 30 minutes. Once the arginine or GH-releasing peptide has been administered, GH-releasing hormone will be given by IV. This should stimulate the pituitary to release GH. The last four blood samples will be drawn every 30 minutes following both infusions.
Note: GHRH is not currently available commercially in the United States.
Will It Hurt?
There may be some minor discomfort when the needle is inserted in the skin and during the infusions. A doctor will supervise the insulin tolerance, as insulin can cause a very low blood sugar level in the blood.
Call Your Doctor
After the test, call your doctor if any of the following occurs:
- Symptoms of infection, including fever and chills
- Severe redness, pain, or drainage from the puncture site
If you think you have an emergency, call for emergency medical services right away.
American Association of Endocrine Surgeons
Hormone Health Network
About Kids Health—The Hospital for Sick Children
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Endocrine, metabolism and diabetes tests and procedures: growth hormone test (arginine/clonidine stimulation test). University of Cincinnati Children's Hospital website. Available at: http://www.cincinnatichildrens.org/health/g/growth-hormone. Updated August 2013. Accessed December 16, 2014.
Ho KK. H Deficiency Consensus Workshop Participants: Consensus guidelines for the diagnosis and treatment of adults with GH deficiency II: a statement of the GH Research Society in association with the European Society for Pediatric Endocrinology, Lawson wilkins society, European Society of endocrinology, Japan Endocrine Society, and Endocrine Society of Australia. Eur J Endocrinol. 2007;157:695-700.
Last reviewed December 2014 by Kim A. Carmichael, MD, FACP
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.