Most parents can imagine how a child will look as an adult, based on what traits run in their families. But there’s a true crystal ball when it comes to height: a bone age test. This simple screening, which reveals the maturity of a child’s skeletal system, can predict when a child will enter puberty, how tall the child will be as an adult, and how long it will take to reach that height. Doctors use bone ages to check for growth disorders and other problems that may interfere with development.
To asses bone age, doctors compare a single x-ray of a child’s left wrist and hand with a standard measure of bone development. The x-ray reveals softer, less mineral-packed areas called epiphyses, or growth plates. These areas are where bone cells reproduce and calcify, forming new bone. As a child ages, this zone becomes thinner; if the plate width, or bone age, is different from that of other children of the same age, that may suggest a growth problem.
A delayed bone age many indicate a genetic growth disorder, such as Turner’s syndrome, or a condition that affects growth hormones, such as hypothyroidism. Doctors also use bone age to treat orthopedic problems by measuring a child’s projected growth. On the other hand, an accelerated bone age may suggest precocious puberty, in which a child undergoes puberty at an early age, or it may indicate an overactive adrenal gland.
1. Bone age is also known as skeletal age.
2. Having a bone age that differs from one’s chronological age doesn’t necessarily mean that there is a growth problem. Children develop at different rates.
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