Failure-to-thrive is a term used to describe a child who is not growing as expected. But, it is not the same as normal growth in a child who is small for his or her age. The exact definition is not completely agreed upon.
In general, failure-to-thrive means that a child:
A risk factor is something that increases your chance of getting a disease or condition.
Failure-to-thrive is diagnosed based on tracking a child's growth. The doctor will plot a child's weight, height, and head circumference on standard growth charts. If the child falls below a certain weight range or drops two percentiles on the growth chart, the doctor will evaluate the child further.
If a medical condition may be the cause, the doctor will order further tests. Tests may include:
Sometimes, a child must be hospitalized for a period of time to find the cause of failure-to-thrive. During this time the doctor will:
If the child can gain weight under these circumstances, this supports the diagnosis of nonorganic failure-to-thrive.
Treatment may include:
Treating the underlying medical condition may correct failure-to-thrive.
Children who are malnourished may need liquid supplements to help boost their weight and nutrition.
When a child is hospitalized for diagnosis, the hospital staff can also provide treatment. Nurses can teach parents appropriate feeding techniques and how to best interact with their child. If the child isn't hospitalized, parents can still have training sessions with a nutritionist or a nurse.
Parents and children who are having difficulty with their relationship may benefit from counseling.
To help prevent failure to thrive:
American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Pediatrics
About Kids Health
Alberta Health and Wellness
Failure to thrive: parental neglect or well-meaning ignorance. Am Fam Physician . 2001;63(9). Available at http://www.aafp.org/afp/20010501/curbside.html.
Kleigman RM, Jensen HB, Behrman RE, Stanton BF, eds. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 18th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Saunders Elsevier; 2007.
Merck Manual of Diagnosis and Therapy . 17th ed. Merck and Company, Inc; 1999.
Last reviewed November 2008 by Kari Kassir, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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