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Early Sexual Maturation Doesn't Always Signal Onset of Puberty

Report serves as guide to discerning need for referral versus observation

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MONDAY, Dec. 14, 2015 (HealthDay News) -- Children who develop certain signs of puberty at an early age are commonly referred to specialists for an evaluation, but this is often unnecessary, according to a new American Academy of Pediatrics report published online Dec. 14 in Pediatrics.

It's not uncommon for young children to show certain traits associated with puberty, including some pubic hair, underarm hair, and the beginnings of breast development, Paul Kaplowitz, M.D., Ph.D., lead author of the report, told HealthDay. He said early signs of sexual maturation are one of the most common reasons that children are referred to pediatric endocrinologists. But the vast majority of those children do not have precocious puberty, said Kaplowitz, an endocrinologist at the Children's National Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

The report points to a few signs that a child's development might be out of the range of normal: testicular enlargement in a boy younger than 9 and progressive breast development in a girl younger than 8. Rapid growth in pubic hair or acne at a young age are also possible warning signs.

"Although there is a chance of finding pathology in girls with signs of puberty before 8 years of age and in boys before 9 years of age, the vast majority of these children with signs of apparent puberty have variations of normal growth and physical development and do not require laboratory testing, bone age radiographs, or intervention," the authors write.

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