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Early Onset of Puberty : Causes, Signs, and Implications of Precocious Puberty

According to recent studies, both boys and girls are reaching puberty at an earlier age than before. Girls on average are starting puberty around the age of 11 and for boys the average age of puberty is around 12.

If puberty starts extremely early then it can be an indication of precocious puberty where the puberty starts before the age of 8 in girls and in boys at age 9.(1) This is a rare condition which needs treatment and is termed as precocious puberty.

Why is Puberty Happening Earlier?

As mentioned before, the average age onset of puberty is decreasing for both girls and boys. A research done in 2020 where 30 studies were analyzed the onset of thelarche, also known as starting of breast budding in girls.(2) A girl’s first menstrual period is known as menarche and this was studied as a marker of the beginning of the puberty in females. However, experts found that a first period can occur later in puberty and is not a good indication of onset of puberty. One more thing of concern is these studies are dependent on the adult memories of menarche that may not be accurate.

Instead experts suggest that thelarche is the most vital early indicator of onset of puberty and this sign is used to distinguish between girls who are prepubescent and pubescent in clinical evaluations. Breast development assessment is also used to differentiate between regular onset puberty and precocious puberty.

According to experts, the age of breast budding has reduced by about three months for every decade.(2) between 1977 and 2013, which indicates that puberty is happening earlier now than when compared to the 1970s.

Some of the potential causes for earlier onset of puberty are: obesity, environmental effects and exposure to chemicals which disrupt the hormones. One of the potential causes of earlier onset of puberty is also the increase in childhood BMI.

A study done in 2019 assessed the growth and height of more than 4,000 Swedish boys between 1947 and 1996.(3) Peak height velocity was used in this study as a marker for puberty and it was found that the boys born in the latter half that period started puberty earlier. For each decade which passed, these boys reached their peak height velocity about 1.5 months earlier.

What Are The Causes Of Precocious Puberty?

The cause for precocious puberty is not clear in many cases. This condition can be triggered by hypothalamus in the brain, which transmits signals to the pituitary gland for releasing hormones to trigger the testicles or ovaries to produce sex hormones.(1)

What happens in precocious puberty is the brain starts to send these signals earlier than the normal age. The causes for this happening are many and one of main cause being MKRN3 gene mutation.(4) This gene helps in determining at what age puberty starts. This genetic mutation can be inherited and in about 5 percent of boys, this precocious puberty trait is passed from their family.(5)

Other causes include factors which are associated with brain and these are: infection, injury to the brain, brain tumor, cancer treatment and other abnormal brain developments.

Precocious puberty can also occur due to a problem in the thyroid gland or ovaries in girls. Genetic disorders, such as McCune-Albright Syndrome can be another potential cause for precocious puberty.

About 90 to 95 percent of girls going through precocious puberty do not have a clear cause.(6) However, in boys who are undergoing precocious puberty, the cause can be identified more readily.

What are the Signs of Precocious Puberty?

Precocious puberty in girls can look like:(1, 7)

  • Development of breasts before the age of 8.
  • Starting menstruation before the age of 10.
  • Having a growth spurt before the age of 8.

In boys, precocious puberty can look like:(1, 7)

  • Growth spurt before the age of 9.
  • Enlargement of the testicles or penis before the age of 9.

Some of the similar changes seen in both boys and girls which can be due to precocious puberty or can be normal signs of growth are:(1, 7)

  • Underarm, pubic or facial hair.
  • A more mature body odor.
  • Deepening of the voice.
  • Girls who are overweight are at increased risk for precocious puberty than other children.

How Early Is Too Early For Puberty and What Are the Challenges Faced By Children During Precocious Puberty?

Precocious puberty is a condition where the children attain puberty earlier than the normal age. The ages which are considered precocious puberty for girls is before the age of 8; and before age 9 for boys where they start experiencing the signs of puberty.

There are many problems experienced by children who experience precocious puberty, as they have maturation of the skeleton and bone growth earlier than other kids their age. As the puberty stops, the growth also stops. In the beginning stages of precocious puberty children can experience a growth spurt and can be taller than their peers; however, the growth also stops soon and the child is not able to reach their complete height potential.

There are also various emotional and social challenges experienced by children who go through precocious puberty.

Girls having breasts development earlier and starting their periods earlier than their peers feel embarrassment can be body shamed or bullied. They can also become moody and irritable.

For boys going through precocious puberty can be aggressive, rude and are always defiant during this time.

Children going through precocious puberty also have earlier sex drive when compared to kids having puberty at normal age making it difficult for mentally coping with it and it can become a cause for concern if they decide to act on these sexual urges, which are not in compliance with their age.

Is Treatment Needed For Precocious Puberty?

Not every child going through precocious puberty needs treatment; however, if it is extremely early, then treatment may be needed, which helps in reducing the levels of sex hormone and halting the puberty. Always consult with your child’s pediatrician if you start noticing any signs of puberty in your child before the normal age.


As the recent research shows, puberty in kids these days is occurring earlier than before and this is termed as precocious puberty. The standard age for puberty to start is between the ages of 8 and 14.

Precocious puberty is which starts before the age of 8 in girls and the age of 9 in boys. The cause of precocious puberty is not always clear and could be due to: environmental conditions, any health condition and genetics.

Children undergoing precocious puberty suffer many challenges, such as not attaining the potential height, emotional and social problems and also challenges due to early onset sex drive. Consult your child’s pediatrician if you observe signs of puberty in your child much before than the usual age.


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Team PainAssist
Team PainAssist
Written, Edited or Reviewed By: Team PainAssist, Pain Assist Inc. This article does not provide medical advice. See disclaimer
Last Modified On:October 14, 2023

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