Background: Intrauterine growth retardation (IUGR) is a major cause of short stature in childhood. Most but not all children experience catch-up growth by 2 years of age.
Methods: We investigated the endocrine profile (thyroid function, prolactin, cortisol, C-peptide and insulin-like growth factor-I [IGF-IJ levels) of 57 children with IUGR, aged 2-10 years, and compared it with 30 controls whose birth weight was appropriate-for-gestational-age.
Results: The hormonal profile for both groups was similar for thyroid hormones, prolactin, C-peptide and IGF-I. Cortisol levels were significantly lower in the IUGR group compared to controls (p <0,05). When the IUGR group was divided into 'catch-up' growth and 'non-catch-up' subgroups, the latter had significantly lower IGF-I levels (p <0.001).
Conclusions: Lower cortisol levels in children born with IUGR may reflect impaired function of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis associated with this condition. The significantly lower IGF-I levels of the 'non-catch-up' subgroup may be involved in their failure to grow.