Complications of dwarfism-related disorders can vary greatly, but some complications are common to a number of conditions.

Disproportionate dwarfism

The characteristic features of the skull, spine and limbs shared by most forms of disproportionate dwarfism result in some common problems:

  • Delays in motor skills development, such as sitting up, crawling and walking
  • Frequent ear infections (otitis media) and risk of hearing loss
  • Bowing of the legs (genu varum)
  • Difficulty breathing during sleep (sleep apnea)
  • Pressure on the spinal cord at the base of the skull
  • Excess fluid around the brain (hydrocephalus)
  • Crowded teeth
  • Progressive severe hunching (kyphosis) or swaying (lordosis) of the back
  • In adulthood, narrowing of the channel in the lower spine (lumbosacral spinal stenosis), resulting in pressure on the spinal cord and subsequent pain or numbness in the legs
  • Arthritis in adulthood
  • Weight gain that can further complicate problems with joints and the spine and place pressure on nerves

Proportionate dwarfism

With proportionate dwarfism, problems in growth and development often result in complications with poorly developed organs. For example, heart problems often present in Turner syndrome can have a significant effect on a child's general health. An absence of sexual maturation associated with growth hormone deficiency or Turner syndrome affects not only physical development but also social functioning.

Pregnancy

Women with disproportionate dwarfism may develop respiratory problems during pregnancy. A cesarean delivery is almost always necessary because the size and shape of the pelvis doesn't allow for successful vaginal delivery.

Public perceptions

Most people with dwarfism prefer not to be labeled by a condition. However, some people may refer to themselves as dwarfs or little people. The word "midget" is generally considered a derogatory term.

People of average height may have misconceptions about people with dwarfism. Some wrongly believe that all people with dwarfism have limited intellectual abilities or personality disorders. Judging maturity by height rather than age, some people may treat people with dwarfism as children.

There's also a long history of people with dwarfism being treated as spectacles for entertainment. And the portrayal of people with dwarfism in modern movies often resorts to stereotypes.

Children with dwarfism are particularly vulnerable to teasing and ridicule from classmates. Because dwarfism is relatively uncommon, children may feel isolated from their peers.

Aug. 27, 2011

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