Seneb, court official and priest for the Ancient Egyptian rulers Khufu and Djedefre, with his wife Senetites and their children.
Dwarfism can result from myriad medical conditions, each with its own separate symptoms and causes. Extreme shortness in humans with proportional body parts usually has a hormonal cause, such as growth-hormone deficiency, once called pituitary dwarfism. Two disorders, achondroplasia and growth hormone deficiency (also known as pituitary dwarfism), are responsible for the majority of human dwarfism cases.
Further information: Achondroplasia
The most recognizable and most common form of dwarfism in humans is achondroplasia, which accounts for 70% of dwarfism cases, occurs in 4 to 15 out of 100,000 live births.
It produces rhizomelic short limbs, increased spinal curvature, and distortion of skull growth. In achondroplasia the body's limbs are proportionately shorter than the trunk (abdominal area), with a larger head than average and characteristic facial features. Achondroplasia is an autosomal dominant disorder caused by the presence of a faulty allele in the genome. If a pair of achondroplasia alleles are present, the result is fatal. Achondroplasia is a mutation in the fibroblast growth factor receptor 3. In the context of achondroplasia, this mutation causes FGFR3 to become constitutively active, inhibiting bone growth.
Research by urologist Harry Fisch of the Male Reproductive Center at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital indicates that in humans this defect may be exclusively inherited from the father and becomes increasingly probable with paternal age: specifically males reproducing after 35.
Further information: Growth hormone deficiency
Growth hormone deficiency (GHD) is a medical condition in which the body produces insufficient growth hormone. Growth hormone, also called somatotropin, is a polypeptide hormone which stimulates growth and cell reproduction. If this hormone is lacking, stunted or even halted growth may become apparent. Children with this disorder may grow slowly and puberty may be delayed by several years or indefinitely. Growth hormone deficiency has no single definite cause. It can be caused by mutations of specific genes, damage to the pituitary gland, Turner's syndrome, poor nutrition, or even stress (leading to psychogenic dwarfism). Laron syndrome (growth hormone insensitivity) is another cause.
Other causes of dwarfism are spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita, diastrophic dysplasia, pseudoachondroplasia, hypochondroplasia, Noonan syndrome, primordial dwarfism, Turner syndrome, osteogenesis imperfecta (OI) and hypothyroidism. Severe shortness with skeletal distortion also occurs in several of the Mucopolysaccharidoses and other storage disorders.
Serious chronic illnesses may produce dwarfism as a side effect. Harsh environmental conditions, such as malnutrition, may also produce dwarfism. These types of dwarfism are indirect consequences of the generally unhealthy or malnourished condition of the individual, and not of any specific disease. The dwarfism often takes the form of simple short stature, without any deformities. In societies where poor nutrition is widespread, the average height of the population may be reduced below its genetic potential by the lack of proper nutrition.