What is Dwarfism? Causes, symptoms, treatment, and complications

Written by Nicolas Perez Diaz, May 20, 2023.

Dwarfism is a condition that affects the growth and development of some people, resulting in a shorter stature compared to average height. It is typically diagnosed when an adult’s height falls below 4 feet 10 inches (147 centimeters).

We need to understand that dwarfism is not an abnormality, but rather a normally-occurring human variation.

According to nhs.uk:

“Most people don’t have any other serious problems and are able to live a relatively normal life, with a normal life expectancy.”

Dwarf – Short/Little Person – Midget

The term midget is rarely used today and is considered offensive – it has given way to short person or little person. The term midget was common until the end of the 20th century.

Unlike a dwarf, a midget is very short, but their legs, arms, and head are normally proportioned. A dwarf has disproportionate body parts.

According to diffen.com:

“The word Dwarf is not considered offensive. The word Midget is considered offensive for either description. It is considered most offensive when misused to describe those with dwarfism. The term Little Person may be less offensive.

Causes of Dwarfism

Dwarfism can result from various factors, including:

  • Genetic mutations
  • Hormonal imbalances
  • Underlying medical conditions

The most common cause is achondroplasia, a genetic disorder affecting bone growth. It happens because of a genetic mutation in the FGFR3 gene, imparting the conversion of cartilage to bone during development. Other genetic conditions such as diastrophic dysplasia, spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia, and pseudoachondroplasia can also lead to dwarfism. Stunted growth can occasionally be caused by medical conditions such as a lack of growth hormone or childhood malnutrition.

Image about Peter Dinklage - for article about dwarfism

Image created by MedicalVocab.com.

The following information comes from mayoclinic.org:

“Disproportionate dwarfism is usually apparent at birth or early in infancy. Proportionate dwarfism may not be diagnosed until later in childhood or the teenage years if your child isn’t growing at an expected rate.”

Signs and symptoms

A variety of physical traits and health issues can be linked to dwarfism. The following signs and symptoms are the most common:

  • Short stature

Adult height below 4 feet 10 inches (147 centimeters), and shorter limbs compared to average proportions

  • Disproportionate body features

Disproportionate body features include a larger head in relation to the body, shortened arms and legs, and an enlarged abdomen.

  • Reduced joint mobility

Reduced joint mobility includes things like a limited range of motion in the joints, particularly the hips, knees, and elbows, and stiffness or difficulty performing certain movements.

  • Spinal abnormalities

One of the telltale signs are spinal abnormalities, which can cause a curvature of the spine and narrowing of the spinal canal.

  • Facial features

People with dwarfism tend to have a prominent forehead, flat nasal bridge, and mid-face hypoplasia (the upper jaw, cheekbones, and eye sockets have grown more slowly than the rest of the face).

  • Dental issues

Teeth may be crowded or misaligned, and there is delayed eruption of permanent teeth.

  • Hearing and Ear problems

There is a greater risk of recurrent ear infections and conductive hearing loss.

  • Respiratory challenges

Dwarfism is linked to a smaller ribcage and reduced lung capacity, leading to breathing difficulties, especially during physical exertion or respiratory illnesses.

  • Joint pain and discomfort

Joint inflammation or arthritis can be caused by skeletal abnormalities.

  • Psychological and social factors

Some people experience psychological difficulties brought on by social norms and misconceptions, such as low self-esteem, problems with body image, or mental health issues.

It is important to note that not everyone with dwarfism will experience every symptom listed above, and that symptoms can vary depending on the underlying cause of dwarfism.

Treatment for Dwarfism

The aim here is to help manage some complications and improve the individual’s quality of life. Growth hormone therapy, which is administered through injections, may be prescribed to children with growth hormone deficiency to stimulate height growth.

Surgery might also be carried, for example limb-lengthening surgeries may be considered on a case-by case basis to help individuals grow taller. Perhaps, one day, when there is zero stigma attached to short stature, people’s desire to lengthen their limbs will diminish.

Physical therapy and assistive devices can also assist in managing joint stiffness and mobility changes. However, it is important to keep in mind that treatment plans should be modified to each person’s needs and objectives while taking potential risks and benefits into consideration.


Dwarfism can cause various complications that may affect daily life, one of them being skeletal anomalies which can increase the risk of developing conditions like arthritis and cause discomfort in the joints. Individuals may also experience respiratory issues due to a smaller ribcage and limited lung capacity.

The spinal deformities caused by certain forms of dwarfism may lead to chronic pain and mobility limitations. Social opinions and values may also lead to to psychological and social difficulties.


Preventing dwarfism is not possible since it is determined by genetic factors. But if you can detect the underlying medical conditions, such as growth hormone deficiency, you can more effectively manage potential growth related concerns.

To support individuals with dwarfism, we need to learn to accept it as a normal component of society. We need to raise awareness, inform people about dwarfism, and dispel any myths and prejudices.

To guarantee equal opportunities and accommodations for people with dwarfism, schools, communities, and workplaces can implement accessibility measures. It’s essential that our society evolves into a supportive space where individuals with dwarfism are empowered to flourish and actualize their maximum potential.