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Dwarfism— It has nothing to do with “juju”

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When you first meet a person of very short stature, what are some of the thoughts that come to mind? Some people unfortunately harbor negative views about those with dwarfism and may stare, make rude jokes or comments, and even discriminate against those with the condition.

There are far too many myths and misconceptions surrounding those with dwarfism that oftentimes the lack of understanding about the physical differences of human beings sadly spurs on prejudiced behavior. Nonetheless, it seems to translate into a tendency for some Nigerians to attribute medical conditions they personally don’t understand to witchcraft or sorcery. The inclination to link health conditions to mystical forces is sometimes the driving force making it easier for some to dehumanize or vilify another human being. It is time for the prejudiced behavior to cease, and we should all have at least a basic level of comprehension about those with differences deviating from what is deemed “normal”.

What exactly is dwarfism? It’s a condition leading one to be of short stature, usually 4 feet 10 inches and under as an adult. There are many conditions that may cause dwarfism, ranging from genetic disorders to even hormonal and metabolic derangements. Here are just a few of the many causes of dwarfism to familiarize yourself with:

Achondroplasia
This condition is one of the most common skeletal dysplasia (bone disorders) causing dwarfism. Achondroplasia can occur on account of a mutation of the FGFR3 (Fibroblast Growth Factor Receptor 3) gene leading to growth impairment of cartilage. The mutation may be passed down from parents in an autosomal dominant inheritance pattern or it may even occur spontaneously during embryological development. Common symptoms of achondroplasia may include the following: disproportionately short limbs with a torso of normal size, large head/ forehead, flattened nasal bridge, crowded teeth, curvature of the spine, decreased muscle tone, and even bowed legs. Those with achondroplasia have a normal lifespan. Though some people may experience chronic medical problems such as apnea, recurrent ear infections, and fluid in the brain known as hydrocephalus.

Growth hormone deficiency (Pituitary dwarfism)
When the pituitary gland makes very low or minimal amounts of growth hormone, then dwarfism may develop. The endocrine problem may lead to symptoms that include very short stature, delayed pubertal development, increased urinary frequency, and excessive thirst. In adulthood, these individuals may experience decreased sexual functioning, osteoporosis, and even depression. Treatment of pituitary dwarfism may sometimes include synthetic growth hormone replacement therapy.

Congenital Hypothyroidism
This means that at birth, there is insufficient production of thyroid hormone. It can occur secondary to the underdevelopment of the thyroid gland or even thyroid agenesis (absent thyroid gland). The endocrine condition can lead to the clinical manifestation of very short stature or stunted growth. In addition, other symptoms may include problems with hypotonia (weak muscle tone), constipation, jaundice, and increased likelihood of umbilical hernias. Congenital hypothyroidism can be treated via thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

Spondyloepiphyseal Dysplasia Congenital (SEDC)
This is a genetic disorder that is seen at birth and attributed to COL2A1 gene mutations. Individuals with SEDC may have bone deformities, spinal and musculoskeletal problems, as well as mobility problems due to loose joints. The condition is also associated with visual and hearing problems.

Diastrophic Dysplasia
This is another congenital disorder that impacts the development of cartilage and bones. The condition is inherited in an autosomal recessive pattern and patients with the disorder may present with cervical spine instability, club feet, cleft palate, and a wide range of other skeletal abnormalities.

Turner Syndrome
This chromosomal disorder affects women and is characterized by short stature, ovarian dysfunction, and even possible cardiac defects. Treatment may include estrogen therapy to promote sexual development and even growth hormone administration to help with height.

There are actually hundreds of conditions possibly leading to dwarfism and there is usually some pathophysiological process involved. Guess what’s not involved, mystical witches taking over the human body. Here is the takeaway, if you have ever made a disparaging comment, taunted, or discriminated against someone with dwarfism, remember that they are also human beings just like you and deserve to be treated with the same respect and dignity as everyone else.


In this article:
Nesochi Okeke-Igbokwe
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