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Precocious Puberty

Puberty is the time of life when a child develops into an adult. It usually begins as early as age 7½ to 8 and as late as age 13 in girls, and between ages 9 and 14 in boys. African American and Hispanic children tend to start puberty about six months earlier than Caucasian children.

At puberty, the gonads—ovaries in girls and testes in boys—begin to function. The physical changes of puberty include:

• The development of secondary sexual characteristics (growth of underarm and pubic hair, breast development, and growth of the penis and testicles)
• Growth spurts of bones and muscles, leading to rapid increase in height
• Changes in body shape and size

Puberty occurs when a part of the brain called the hypothalamus releases gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH). This hormone stimulates the pituitary gland (a small gland at the base of the brain) to release two other hormones: luteinizing hormone (LH) and folliclestimulating hormone (FSH). LH and FSH then stimulate the gonads to produce sex steroids—estrogen in females and testosterone in males—that lead to the physical changes of puberty.

The adrenal glands (two small glands located above the kidneys) also play a role in the production of sex steroids, but their role is usually less important than that of the gonads.

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The Hormone Foundation

Dr. Lysette Iglesias M.D.

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