They want to know why their children are turning into adults years earlier than normal.
A 42-year-old mother from Tan Phu district said that her six-year-old daughter was developing breasts and pubic hair, but did not think much of it. But when the little girl had her periods just a year later, the mother freaked out and rushed to the hospital.
The girl was diagnosed with precocious puberty, and had to have regular injections for three years to suspend sexual growth until she reached the normal age for puberty.
Such stories are not uncommon these days, especially in big cities where the number of early puberty cases has shot up dramatically in the last few years.
The Children’s Hospital No 1 reports that they receive roughly 30 cases of precocious puberty a month, and are about 200 children are being treated currently. The increase is remarkable, compared to less than 10 cases a year a decade ago.
A similar increase has also been seen in the capital city of Hanoi. According to the National Children’s Hospital, approximately 500 children were treated for early puberty this year alone, 2.5 times higher than just three years ago.
Doctor Tran Thi Bich Huyen of the Children’s Hospital No 1’s Department of Kidney and Endocrinology told the Tuoi tre (Youth) newspaper that many young girls and boys between six and eight years old were showing signs of precocious puberty.
While the girls were developing breasts and menstruating, the boys were experiencing penis enlargements and pubic hair growth, two to three years earlier than the earliest normal occurrence, she said.
“The cause for most of precocious puberty cases in girls is unknown, while 50 percent of the boys have tumours in their brain or elsewhere,” she added.
Doctor Ho Thi Ngoc Bich, also from the same department, said some linkages have been observed between obesity and premature puberty.
The high consumption of animal protein was also associated with early puberty, which might explain why the problem was reported more among children in major cities, where the living standards are generally better than in rural areas.
The usual prescribed treatment for early puberty is injections to suppress particular hormones, estrogen in girls and testosterone in boys, which trigger puberty.
Those who receive this treatment will see suspension of breast development, pubic hair growth and/or menstruation, helping them psychologically, while lowering the risk of sexual molestation, Huyen said.
The medication could also improve the height of children experiencing early puberty. They are generally at a higher risk of being shorter than their peers.
It is widely believed that precocious puberty seals growth plates and reduces adult height. The children having early puberty tend to be taller than their friends at a very young age, but end up shorter as adults.
However, the hormone suppression treatment has not proven effective in height improvement for children above six, Huyen said.
The girl in Tan Phu district was seven years old when she started having the monthly injections. The medication ceased three years later, when she was about 1m48 tall. Now, at 14, she is only 3cm higher. Other than that, she is growing into a woman normally.
Huyen warned that parents should not buy drugs by themselves to treat the problem, noting that health insurance schemes fully covers treatment for premature puberty. She said parents should take their children to hospitals for a thorough examination instead of trying to solve the problem on their own.
“Some parents buy drugs outside and inject their children with the hope of suspending puberty. But it is very risky,” she said.
“Wrong use of the drugs can result in abnormal puberty, harming the children physically and emotionally.”