If your child has CPP, you’re probably wondering where it came from. The truth is that central precocious puberty is usually idiopathic, meaning it arises spontaneously without a known cause. In rare cases, however, CPP can be a symptom of an underlying medical problem, and there are also risk factors that could make early puberty more likely.
Whether or not your pediatric endocrinologist determines the cause of your child’s CPP, just remember that you are not to blame. Precocious puberty is fully treatable, and it begins the same way normal puberty does— just a little earlier.
What Causes Puberty?
It all starts when the brain produces a hormone called gonadotropin-releasing hormone, or GnRH. When GnRH reaches the pituitary gland in the base of your child’s brain, it causes the production of sex hormones (estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys). These sex hormones are responsible for the emotional and physical changes that comprise puberty, like breast bud and testicle growth, a growth spurt, menstruation, mood swings, body hair, and body odor. With central precocious puberty, this process simply begins sooner than normal.
Uncommon CPP Causes
When you first notice these early puberty symptoms, it’s important to see a pediatrician as soon as possible to confirm that your child’s CPP is not a symptom of a more serious health issue. In rare instances, central precocious puberty can be caused by a tumor in the brain or spinal cord, birth defects like excess fluid buildup (hydrocephalus) and noncancerous tumors (hamartoma), radiation or injury to the brain or spinal cord, McCune-Albright syndrome (a genetic disease that affects bones, skin color, and hormones), congenital adrenal hyperplasia (related to abnormal hormone production by the adrenal glands), ovarian tumors, family history of CPP, and hypothyroidism (a condition in which the thyroid gland underproduces hormones). Again, your child’s CPP is not likely to have been caused by an underlying medical issue, but it’s still crucial to confirm this with their doctor.
Certain characteristics make children more susceptible to CPP. While most of these risk factors are out of your control, it’s still helpful to be aware of them.
Risk factors include:
- Being a girl: Girls are much more likely to develop precocious puberty than boys.
- Being Black: Precocious puberty affects Black children more often than children of other races.
- Being obese: Significantly overweight children have a higher risk of developing CPP.
- Being adopted: It’s not clear why, but children adopted from countries outside the U.S. are 10 to 20 times more likely to develop CPP.
Beyond encouraging your child to eat well and stay active, and keeping them away from estrogen and testosterone supplements, there’s nothing you can do to prevent CPP. But if your child does have CPP, you can still protect their childhood—and their long-term well-being—by pursuing treatment.