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Health Information For Teens
Here are some facts that people may not realize about dwarfism.
and bone growth).
The most common type of dwarfism is achondroplasia (prnounced: ay-kon-dreh-PLAY-zyuh).
Most types of dwarfism are caused by a genetic change (mutation) in the egg or sperm cells before conception. Others happen because of genetic changes inherited from one or both parents.
Depending on the type of dwarfism, two average-size parents can have a child with short stature. It’s also possible for parents who are little people to have an average-size child.
Does everyone with dwarfism look alike? Not at all. Everyone with dwarfism is short, but different types of dwarfism have different causes and different physical traits.
Most types of dwarfism are skeletal dysplasias (pronounced: diss-PLAY-zhee-uhs). There are more than 400 different types of these unusual cartilage and bone growth conditions.
In general, dwarfism caused by skeletal dysplasias results in disproportionate short stature. This means that the limbs and the trunk are not of the same proportion as those of typically statured people.
The two types of this disproportion are short-trunk and short-limb:
By far the most common skeletal dysplasia is achondroplasia. This short-limb dwarfism happens in about 1 of every 25,000 babies born of all races and ethnic groups. People with achondroplasia have a relatively long trunk and shortened upper parts of their arms and legs. They also may have:
The average adult height for someone with achondroplasia is a little over 4 feet.
Diastrophic dysplasia is another short-limb dwarfism. It happens in about 1 in 100,000 births. People who have this type tend to have shortened forearms and calves (called mesomelic shortening). They might also have:
Most people with diastrophic dysplasia have joint problems that limit movement. Along with the curved spine, this can make it hard to walk distances, especially when they get older. Some people may need to use crutches, a scooter, or a wheelchair to get around.
Spondyloepiphyseal dysplasias (SED) are short-trunk skeletal dysplasias that involve the spine and the end of the bones that make up the joints (epiphyses). Along with achondroplasia and diastrophic dysplasia, they’re one of the more common types of dwarfism. Someone with an SED also might:
Doctors can diagnose some cases of achondroplasia before birth by doing an ultrasound in the later stages of pregnancy. The ultrasound can show if a baby’s arms and legs are shorter than average and if the baby’s head is larger.
Different types of dwarfism can be diagnosed even earlier in pregnancy, but other types aren’t found until a baby is born. If it’s thought a child may have dwarfism, the doctor can use X-rays after birth to see if the bones are growing at an unusul rate, or if they are shaped differently.
People with dwarfism can lead healthy, active lives. The conditions that cause dwarfism have their own possible complications, which can change over time. But doctors can treat many of these.
Some medical issues are treated with surgery, usually on the back, neck, leg, foot, or middle ear. So, little people usually have more surgeries than the average-size person, especially as children. These are done with anesthesia, which can be more of a risk for little people because of their smaller body size and airways.
A few extra pounds on a little person can be more of a problem than a few extra pounds on an average-size person. Extra weight puts harmful stress on the back and joints. Little people might have limits on the types of exercises and activities that they can do. But it’s important for them to find safe physical activities that they enjoy to help stay fit.
Types of dwarfism, and their severity and complications, vary from person to person. In general, a person’s life span is not affected by being little. The Americans with Disabilities Act protects the rights of people with dwarfism, but many members of the short-statured community don’t feel that they have a disability.
Most of the complications that happen in people with dwarfism are physical, not intellectual. In fact, little people often find clever ways to do things in the average-size world. They also interact with people unfamiliar with dwarfism who make assumptions about it. While that can be tough and awkward at times, it’s also an opportunity to enlighten people who don’t know much about dwarfism.
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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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