Failure to thrive

Definition

Failure to thrive refers to children whose current weight or rate of weight gain is much lower than that of other children of similar age and gender.

Causes

Failure to thrive may be caused by medical problems or factors in the child's environment, such as abuse or neglect.

There are many medical causes of failure to thrive. These include:

Factors in the child's environment include:

Many times, the cause cannot be determined.

Symptoms

Children who fail to thrive do not grow and develop normally as compared to children of the same age. They seem to be much smaller or shorter. Teenagers may not have the usual changes that occur at puberty.

Symptoms of failure to thrive include:

The following may be delayed or slow to develop in children who fail to thrive:

Babies who fail to gain weight or develop often lack interest in feeding or have a problem receiving the proper amount of nutrition. This is called poor feeding.

Other symptoms that may be seen in a child that fails to thrive include:

Exams and Tests

The health care provider will perform a physical exam and check the child's height, weight, and body shape. Parents will be asked about the child's medical and family history.

A special test called the Denver Developmental Screening Test may be used to show any delays in development. A growth chart outlining all types of growth since birth is created.

The following tests may be done:

Treatment

Treatment depends on the cause of the delayed growth and development. Delayed growth due to nutritional problems can be helped by showing the parents how to provide a well-balanced diet.

Do not give your child dietary supplements such as Boost or Ensure without talking to your provider first.

Other treatment depends on how severe the condition is. The following may be recommended:

The child may need to stay in the hospital for a little while.

Treatment may also involve improving the family relationships and living conditions.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Normal growth and development may be affected if a child fails to thrive for a long time.

Normal growth and development may continue if the child has failed to thrive for a short time, and the cause is determined and treated.

Possible Complications

Permanent mental, emotional, or physical delays can occur.

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call for an appointment with your provider if your child does not seem to be developing normally.

Prevention

Regular checkups can help detect failure to thrive in children.


Review Date: 9/5/2017
Reviewed By: Neil K. Kaneshiro, MD, MHA, Clinical Professor of Pediatrics, University of Washington School of Medicine, Seattle, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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