Puberty facts
  • Puberty is the time when one attains sexual maturity and gains fertility.
  • The beginning of puberty time differs from a person to person.  Nonetheless, it happens in females in between 10 – 14 and in males in between 12 – 16 of age.
  • The onset of puberty is greatly influenced by environmental and genetic factors.
  • The composition of the body and fat in the body play a vital role in the normal beginning of puberty.
  • Puberty is linked to the advancement of secondary sexual features and speedy growth.
  • Certain medical problems may get worsened or make their debut on attaining the puberty.
  • If the puberty happens earlier than it should usually have, it is known as precocious puberty. The girls are more prone to this than the boys.

What is puberty?

Attaining the sexual maturity process by the girls and boys is called puberty. Puberty entails a sequence of physical steps or stages leading to the attainment of the growth of special features also called secondary sexual features, like the development of pubic hair, and fertility. Since in the process of attaining puberty, the body undergoes a sequence of physical and biological changes; hence, this progression also impacts the emotional and psychosocial growth of the teenager.

When does the puberty begin?

The beginning of puberty differs from person to person. Girls generally attain puberty between 10 and 14 years of age and the boys between 12 and 16 of age. In South-American females, the of puberty starts when they are about 9 years.  It means that they attain puberty between 9 and 14 of age.

These days, the girls attain puberty earlier than previously. This change is impacted by today’s environment and nutrition. For instance, the beginning of menstruation used to come at 15 years of age in girls around 1900 whereas this standard age average has fallen to 12½.

The decisive factors of puberty

The puberty timing is not fully implicit and influenced by many factors. Some theorists believe that attaining a crucial body composition and weight play a vital role in beginning the puberty. They also believe that the beginning of puberty is linked to the increasing obesity among children recently.

The fat cells, also called adipocytes, of the body generate a hormone, Leptin that is presumed to work as a negotiator in the puberty timing. Some researchers revealed that the animals lacking leptin did not experience puberty.  They began experiencing puberty when leptin was injected into them. Moreover, girls having higher accumulation of leptin hormone are believed to be having a larger proportion of fat in their body which works with beginning of puberty earlier than the girls having a lower amount of leptin. The accumulation of leptin hormone in the blood is believed to become higher with the beginning of puberty, both in girls and boys.

One of the several impacts of Leptin hormone is on the Hypothalamus, a part of the brain, which helps in secreting gonadotropin-releasing hormone (Gn-RH) that sends indications to the pituitary gland for the release of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and leutinizing hormone (LH). Both FSH and LH discharge by the pituitary helps in sexual growth.

Genetic issues that run in a family also make an influence on the puberty timing. Besides, a crucial gene is acknowledged that also impacts the usual growth of puberty. The gene, called GPR54, is responsible for producing a protein that apparently impacts the Hypothalamus in releasing the Gn-RH. The persons not having the working gene are unable to attain usual puberty.

The physical phases of puberty boys and girls

The physical modifications happening in the puberty process witness a distinctive series of happenings both in girls and boys. Mostly, the girls see the initial indication of puberty in the growth of their breasts, which happens at the age around 11 years. The indication of the starting puberty in girls is the development of pubic hair followed by the development of armpit hair. However, a very chunk of girls see the growth of pubic hair before their breasts begin developing. The beginning of the periods (menstruation) generally occurs after other body changes and takes nearly 2½ years after the beginning of puberty.

The attainment of fertility and a regular sequence of ovulation generally starts developing speedily after reaching the menstruation (periods) stage. Nonetheless, the girls, in whom the beginning of menstruation is delayed, develop a tendency of getting ovulation irregularly after the beginning of menstruation. Some studies revealed that almost 50 percent of all girls in their adolescence, in whom the menstruation begins after the age of 13 usually start ovulating regularly only after 4 to 5 years.

With the beginning of the puberty, the first perceptible change in boys is the increasing size of testicles. The size of the testicles starts increasing around the age of 11, which continues for nearly six months. After the increase in the testicle size, the penis also start growing in size. The increase in size of the penis and testicles always happens before the growth of pubic hair. The following phase is the development of pubic hair and the armpit hair. Subsequently, the voice starts deepening and the muscle start growing in size. The final stage is generally of the growing facial hair.

Other body alterations that happen during puberty in girls and boys

·        Growth spurt

The puberty accompanies speedy growth in height, better known as a growth spurt, which continues for about 2 to 3 years. The one-fifth height equivalent to that of an adult is achieved in puberty. The growth of limbs generally takes precedence over the trunk, although the height increase impacts both. The growth spurt is typically seen earlier, on an average of 2 years, among girls than the boys, averagely. Among girls, this growth spurt comes first before the beginning of menstruation by around 6 months.

·        Bone mineralization and growth

Puberty comes along with the bone growth and their higher bone density in both girls and boys. Among girls, the bone mineralization reaches its highest point around the period of the menstruation (periods) beginning after the growth spurt (height velocity) reaches its peak.

Some studies have revealed that the width in bones takes precedence over the increased mineral substance of bones and finally the increased bone density. Due to the interval in between the growth of bones and the attaining complete density of bones, adolescents run a higher risk of fracture during this period.

·        Changing weight

Changes in the composition of body and weight happen both among girls and boys. The girls in their adolescence, grow a larger ratio of fat in the body than the boys.  They also undergo fat redistribution towards the lower and upper parts of their body that makes their body appearance curvier. The boys also go through the increased growth of fat in their body and their growth of their muscles is quicker. At the end of puberty, the boys gather a higher amount of mass in their muscles than the girls of their comparable size.

·        Other changes

The other changes are the maturity of the lungs and cardiovascular system that leads to the higher working ability of both the organs. This working ability is generally linked to the increased strength and staying power.

The boys attain fertility the beginning of their puberty.  With the onset of puberty, the testosterone levels in their body become higher that activates the sperm production in your semen.

The physicians are able to distinguish the puberty pattern with Tanner levels or the Sexual Maturity Rating (SMR).  Named after the research of James M Tanner in 1969, his theory revealed the series of explanation detailing physical changes during puberty.  Tanner stages are concluded by the growth stages of the secondary sex features and include changes in the appearance and the size of exterior genitalia, the public hair growth and developing breasts in females. Tanner levels of development during puberty helps the doctors to identify and classify the degree of sexual features growth in unique 5 levels from level 1 to 5. These levels describe the maturity level from prepubertal to attaining adulthood.

Medical issues linked to standard puberty

Puberty is a usual condition and not a medical issue.  However, several medical ailments and conditions may begin appearing during the course of attaining puberty. Certain medical issues that may crop up and are linked to the puberty, such as:

  • Acne

Swelling and clogging of hair follicles and sebaceous glands of your skin are associated with Acne, which gets prominent mostly on the face, but can happen on the back, neck, chest and other areas of your body. The acne develops among several girls and boys due to changes in the hormone levels during puberty.

  • Gynecomastia

Gynecomastia is the expression that is used for describing male breast enlargement. The transient gynecomastia is caused by the onset of puberty in average boys, which usually continues for nearly 1½ years. Pubescent gynecomastia usually happens at an age around 13 and commonly influences 50% boys in their adolescence.

  • Anemia

The usual pubescence development among boys is linked to the higher amount of hemoglobin absorption in blood and iron (ferritin).  However, the girls do not experience this increase. The girls in their adolescence develop a tendency of eating lesser iron-holding food compared to boys. And, this tendency coupled with the loss of blood while menstruating may put the girls in adolescence at higher risk of anemia.

  • Sexually transmitted infections or diseases (STIs or STDs)

The countries where sex is not a taboo for unmarried girls, there is a high probability of teenagers getting into the act, even copulation, during puberty.  The teenagers, who freely indulge in sexually activities without using the required protection, are prone to catching infections, like Chlamydia and Gonorrhea, besides other STDs and HIV.

  • Scoliosis

As the physical growth happens speedily during the course of puberty, Because of rapid growth during puberty, curvature in the normal vertical straight spine (scoliosis) may get worsened or may become evident for the first time during the course of puberty.

  • Myopia

There is a high risk of vision changes incidences during puberty.  This happens because of the development of eye axial diameter during this period.

  • Musculoskeletal injuries

While going through the growth spurt and development of mass in the muscles, the adolescents run a high risk of getting musculoskeletal injuries.  Since growth in bones generally takes precedence over the mineralization of complete bones, adolescents undergoing puberty run a high risk of getting fractures.

Besides, as the growth of organs generally happens before the development of trunk, some joints may experience a limited movement that makes them vulnerable to strains and sprains.

  • Uterine bleeding

The girls who lately have started menstruating may experience prolonged and irregular or heavy menstrual bleeding (Mennorhagia). Not ovulating (anovolution) is one usual cause for irregular menstruation among girls in their adolescence.

Medical issues linked to late or early puberty?

Delayed puberty:

Delayed puberty is the late beginning of puberty. Puberty is generally seen as late when the testicular volume (semen) does not see an increased levels up to 14 years of age among boys.   Similarly, the puberty is believed to be delayed among girls, if they do not see any breast growth up to nearly the same age.

At times, the delayed puberty is genetic and runs in the family and the usual growth during adolescence happens normally after the late onset. This is known as constitutional delay.  This reason is liable for majority of delayed puberty cases. The Constitutional delay is found more commonly in boys as compared to the girls and harms the attainment and growth of puberty.

Persistent medical issues, like cystic fibrosis and diabetes may also play a role in delaying the puberty beginning. Genetic issues with the thyroid or pituitary glands, besides the issues with ovaries, testicles and malnutrition are the reasons of late onset of the puberty.

Several girls, who exercise vigorously have a very little fat in their body and, obviously, run a risk of delayed puberty as they lack the amount of fat necessary for beginning the puberty.

Professional athletic girls develop a tendency of beginning their menstruations 1-2 years later as compared to non-athletic girls. Hence, they are confronted with the delay in the beginning of the puberty.

Precocious puberty

Earlier than the standard beginning of puberty is medically called precocious puberty. Although some medical experts are not in agreement with the standard age for attaining the precocious puberty, several professionals think that the diagnosis of precocious puberty should be done if the growth of the girl’s breasts is seen earlier than the age of 7 in girls.

Similarly, the boys who experience growth of secondary sex traits before the age of 9 are acknowledged to have precocious puberty. Precocious puberty may be linked to the psychological issues that make an impact on the emotional growth of children.

Mostly, the girls experience the precocious puberty more than the boys.  Several girls get precocious puberty even if they do not have any ailment or medical condition. Boys experience precocious puberty linked to many medical issues.

In several cases, the precise reason of the precocious puberty occurrence is difficult to be ascertained.  Though there are very less number of instances wherein the precocious puberty is linked to the irregularities found in the testicles, ovaries, genetics and other issues.

Precocious puberty is curable by lowering the rising sex hormones with medications like Gn-Rh agonists that obstruct the excess sex hormones production and help in the balancing the growth of sex characteristics.

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