Delayed Puberty: Why Aren’t I Growing Like My Friends Are?

As a teenager, you start becoming more and more aware of your sexual health and wellness when you see your body begin to change, as well as everyone else’s around you. However, when everyone else seems to be changing, and you don’t notice any changes in yourself, you can start to become concerned about your wellbeing. While puberty generally starts when you’re between the ages of seven and 13 (girls) or nine and 15 (boys), some young people pass this normal age range for puberty without showing any signs of body changes. This is called delayed puberty.


Puberty enables your body to grow from a child’s into an adult’s. Girls notice breast development, more pubic hair, growth (both in terms of height and getting more curves) and you also begin to have periods. This is because your body is producing more of the sex hormone oestrogen. Guys will start to grow pubic and facial hair, have a growth spurt, gain wider and more muscular shoulders and your testicles and penis will get larger. This is because your body is producing more of the sex hormone testosterone. However, several things can get in the way of the puberty process, which is where delayed puberty comes in.


More often than not, delayed puberty occurs because it’s a family trait. If you think you may be experiencing delayed puberty, talk to a relative about others in your family, and you’ll probably find that a parent, uncle, aunt, brother, sister, cousin or all of the above developed later than usual, too. This is called constitutional delay (or being a late bloomer). It’s nothing to worry about, and usually doesn’t require any kind of treatment. It just means that you’ll develop a bit later than other young people. However, sometimes a delay in puberty can be caused by a more serious wellness concern.


Medical problems can get in the way of the puberty process, as the illness makes it harder for your body to grow and develop. If you having an underlying chronic illness – such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis, kidney disease, or even asthma – this may be delaying your puberty, but you can make this less likely to happen if you have proper treatment and better control of these conditions. Your pituitary or thyroid glands produce hormones important for body growth and development, so delayed puberty can also happen if you have problems in these glands.


You may also develop later than your friends if you’re malnourished, meaning that you don’t eat enough or you don’t eat the proper nutrients. This is often the case with teens who have the eating disorder anorexia, as they often lose so much weight that their bodies cannot develop properly. Girls’ bodies require a certain amount of fat before they can go through puberty or get their periods, so if you’re a girl who’s extremely involved in sports, you may also be a late developer because your level of exercise keeps you so lean.


Another reason why delayed puberty occurs is chromosomal problems. If you have problems with your chromosomes – which are made up of DNA that contain your body’s construction plans – this can interfere with normal growth processes. An example of this is Turner syndrome, in which one of a female’s two X chromosomes is abnormal or missing. This interferes with how you grow, the development of your ovaries and your body’s production of sex hormones. If you have untreated Turner syndrome, you may be shorter than normal, infertile, and have other medical problems. Males with Klinefelter syndrome are born with an extra X chromosome (XXY instead of XY). This condition can slow sexual development.

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