Written by: Cally Worden
Technically speaking, dwarfism refers to people who attain an adult height of less than 4ft 10in (147cm). There are more than 300 known possible causes of dwarfism, most of which are genetic. Acondroplasia is the most common cause, accounting for around 70% of cases of dwarfism. Some 80% of children born with Acondroplasia are the product of parents of average height.
What Causes Dwarfism?
In most cases, dwarfism is caused by a spontaneous mutation in sperm or egg cells before conception even occurs. There is no known reason why this mutation happens. And some types of dwarfism may be the result of genetic changes that have been inherited from Mum and/or Dad. If either parent has a form of dwarfism, the odds are greater that their child will also have the condition.
Beyond genetics, there are other reasons why a person may develop with short stature. These include instances of hormonal or metabolic disorders that only become apparent in early childhood or infancy. Examples are pituitary gland disorders, which interfere with growth and metabolism and absorptive issues, which prevent the body from absorbing nutrients effectively leading to growth problems.
The majority of dwarfism types are referred to as Skeletal Dysplasias. This means that the bones grow abnormally. This breaks down further into two types:
- Short Trunk Dysplasia – the trunk of the body is abnormally short, but the limbs are of average size
- Short Limb Dysplasia – the trunk of the body is of average size, with the limbs being shorter than normal. Acondroplasia – the most common type of dwarfism – falls into this category
Other features shared by those with Acondroplasia (and many other types of dwarfism) include a larger than normal head with a prominent forehead. The bridge of the nose may also appear flattened, muscle tone may be lower than average and hands and fingers can be short.
Prenatal testing can be used to diagnose dwarfism if the medics have reason to suspect a particular condition may be present. In most cases, however, dwarfism is not identified until after birth. In these cases diagnosis is dependent on observations of inhibited growth, characteristics of bodily appearance and bone x-rays. Many cases are able to be diagnosed shortly after a child is born.
While no ‘cure’ is necessary (or possible) for dwarfism, certain types of the condition may cause secondary complications and health conditions. Hearing and vision may be monitored closely to ensure normal development in these areas, metabolic or hormonal issues may be treated with drugs or dietary manipulations. Lower back pain, crowding of teeth in the jaw and breathing problems caused by a smaller chest are among the other issues that can arise from dwarfism.
Busting a Few Dwarfism Myths
Dwarfism is not an indicator of lower than average intelligence. Nor is it a ‘disease’ that requires a ‘cure’. People with dwarfism are not incapable – they work, attend school, marry, have kids – just like regular people. The vast majority of people with dwarfism lead a normal life, of average duration – they just happen to be smaller in stature than most individuals. It is also little-known that a child norm to one or two parents with dwarfism can be of average height.