What is included in the physical exam to evaluate pediatric growth failure (failure to thrive)?

Updated: Nov 05, 2018
  • Author: Andrew P Sirotnak, MD; Chief Editor: Caroly Pataki, MD  more...
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The physical examination must be detailed and carefully performed to detect any disease or syndrome that might affect growth and development. The examination most often reveals a rather small and undernourished infant with normal vital signs and with most developmental milestones either intact or mildly delayed. Hospitalization is only needed for the rare infant with signs of severe malnutrition as evidenced by cachexia or marasmus.

Plotting growth parameters on the appropriate growth chart is essential. Multiple data points are helpful to evaluate trends in growth. Weight should be measured with the child unclothed. Length (not height), head circumference, weight for height and body mass index should also be plotted. Some conditions, such as Down syndrome, achondroplasia, and Turner syndrome, require specific growth charts.

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