Use and abuse of human growth hormone

Annu Rev Med. 1994;45:407-20. doi: 10.1146/


Recombinant human growth hormone (hGH) has been available for nearly a decade. Side effects are rare. Its efficacy in promoting growth acceleration has been widely confirmed in children with GH deficiency (GHD), Turner syndrome, idiopathic short stature, chronic renal failure, and a variety of other conditions. The dramatic increase in height velocity in the first year of therapy partially attenuates in subsequent years in all patient groups, and convincing final height data are only available in GHD and Turner syndrome. Pediatric endocrinologists continue to be troubled by definitions of GHD. Although profound GHD is relatively obvious, other patients with severe growth failure but borderline or normal endocrine testing also respond to hGH therapy. Thus many endocrinologists use auxologic criteria [e.g. low growth velocity, height < -3 standard deviation (SD), poor predicted adult height] as the de facto basis for therapy, leading to a blurred distinction between treatment of disease and enhancement of normal characteristics and, finally, raising questions about the ultimate benefit of hGH therapy. Brief clinical trials of hGH therapy in adults both with and without GHD have reported increased muscle mass, decreased fat, and improvement in quality of life. Internists may soon be faced with treatment decisions analogous to those confronting pediatricians, i.e. whether to use hGH to repair aspects of the normal aging process.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Body Height / drug effects
  • Child
  • Cocarcinogenesis
  • Drug Utilization
  • Ethics, Medical
  • Female
  • Growth / drug effects
  • Growth Hormone / adverse effects
  • Growth Hormone / deficiency
  • Growth Hormone / therapeutic use*
  • Health
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Patient Selection*
  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Resource Allocation
  • Risk Assessment
  • Turner Syndrome / drug therapy


  • Recombinant Proteins
  • Growth Hormone