Growth hormone levels in the diagnosis of growth hormone deficiency in adulthood

Pituitary. 2007;10(2):141-9. doi: 10.1007/s11102-007-0031-0.


Current guidelines for the diagnosis of adult growth hormone deficiency (GHD) state that the diagnosis must be proven biochemically by provocative testing that is done within the appropriate clinical context. The need for reliance on provocative testing is based on evidence that the evaluation of spontaneous growth hormone (GH) secretion over 24 h and the measurement of IGF-I and IGFBP-3 levels do not distinguish between normal and GHD subjects. Regarding IGF-I, it has been demonstrated that very low levels in patients highly suspected for GHD (i.e., patients with childhood-onset, severe GHD, or with multiple hypopituitarism acquired in adulthood) may be considered definitive evidence for severe GHD obviating the need for provocative tests. However, normal IGF-I levels do not rule out severe GHD and therefore adults suspected for GHD and with normal IGF-I levels must undergo a provocative test of GH secretion. The insulin tolerance test (ITT) is the test of choice, with severe GHD being defined by a GH peak less than 3 microg/l, the cut-off that distinguishes normal from GHD adults. The ITT is contraindicated in the presence of ischemic heart disease, seizure disorders, and in the elderly. Other tests are as reliable as the ITT, provided they are used with appropriate cut-off limits. Glucagon stimulation, a classical test, and especially new maximal tests such as GHRH in combination with arginine or GHS (i.e., GHRP-6) have well-defined cut-off limits, are reproducible, are independent of age and gender, and are able to distinguish between normal and GHD subjects. The confounding effect of overweight or obesity on the interpretation of the GH response to provocative tests needs to be considered as the somatotropic response to all stimuli is negatively correlated with body mass index. Appropriate cut-offs for lean, overweight, and obese subjects must be used in order to avoid false-positive diagnoses of severe GHD in obese adults.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Arginine / blood
  • Body Weight
  • Diagnostic Techniques, Endocrine / standards*
  • Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone / blood
  • Human Growth Hormone / blood*
  • Human Growth Hormone / deficiency*
  • Humans
  • Insulin / pharmacology
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic


  • Insulin
  • Human Growth Hormone
  • Growth Hormone-Releasing Hormone
  • Arginine