Dwarfism (pronounced /ˈdwɔrfɪzəm/) is short stature resulting from a particular medical condition. It is sometimes defined as an adult height of less than 4 feet 10 inches (147 cm), although this definition is problematic because short stature in itself is not a disorder.
Dwarfism can be caused by about 200 distinct medical conditions, such that the symptoms and characteristics of individual people with dwarfism vary greatly. In the United States, Canada and New Zealand, many people with dwarfism prefer to be called little people.
Disproportionate dwarfism is characterized by one or more body parts' being relatively large or small in comparison to those of a normal adult, with growth abnormalities in specific areas being apparent. In cases of proportionate dwarfism, the body appears normally proportioned, but is abnormally small. Historically, the term midget was used to describe "proportionate dwarfs"; however, this term has now become offensive and pejorative (see terminology). Hypotonia, or a lack of muscle, is common in dwarfs, but intelligence and lifespan are usually normal.
Achondroplasia is a bone-growth disorder responsible for 70% of dwarfism cases. In achondroplasia, the limbs are disproportionally short compared to the trunk (abdominal area), with the head larger than normal and characteristic facial features. Conditions in humans characterized by disproportional body parts are typically caused by one or more genetic disorders in bone or cartilage development. Extreme shortness in humans with proportional body parts usually has a hormonal cause, such as growth-hormone deficiency, once called pituitary dwarfism.
There is no single treatment for dwarfism. Individual abnormalities, such as bone-growth disorders, sometimes can be treated through surgery, and some hormone disorders can be treated through medication, but usually it is impossible to treat all the symptoms of dwarfism. Lifestyle changes often are needed to cope with the effects of dwarfism. Such devices as specialized furniture often help people with dwarfism to function normally. Many support groups help individuals with dwarfism cope with the challenges they face and with developing and maintaining their independence.
Dwarfism is a highly visible condition and often carries negative connotations in society. Because of their unusual height, people with dwarfism are often used as spectacles in entertainment and portrayed with stereotypes. For a person with dwarfism, heightism can lead to ridicule in childhood and discrimination in adulthood.
Short stature can be inherited without any coexisting disease. Short stature in the absence of any abnormal medical condition is not generally considered dwarfism. For example, a short man and a short woman who are in normal health will tend to produce children who are also short and in normal health. While short parents tend to produce short children, persons with dwarfism may produce children of normal height, if the cause of their dwarfism is not genetically transmissible or if the individual does not pass on the genetic mutation.
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