Children usually grow fast. In girls, between 10 and 14 years, and boys, between 12 and 16 years, you may notice a sudden increase in height, along with an increase in appetite and general fussiness. These rapid physical changes usually indicate puberty.

Puberty refers to a period of development in which a child’s body matures into an adult and is capable of sexual reproduction. Generally, all organ systems in our body begin to grow and develop after birth. But the reproductive system remains inactive for several years. During puberty, the brain will secrete a surge of hormones to activate the reproductive system and to prepare our body for reproduction. This hormone surge is generally referred to as the onset of puberty causing rapid changes in body characteristics – notably height and weight. These rapid physical changes coinciding with hormonal changes makes pubertal growth spurt intense and overwhelming. Even though everybody goes through puberty, it is different for each person.

Puberty generally starts earlier for girls than boys. Girls usually experience puberty as a sequence of events, which may start around the age of 8. Additionally, these fluctuating hormone levels can also cause mood swings and sometimes may go out of control. Understanding what is happening to your body can help you to prepare and feel more comfortable as you transform from a girl to a woman.

Physical and hormonal changes during puberty

The biological changes that occur during puberty are a result of changes in the levels of hormones that are produced by the hypothalamus and pituitary gland. They modulate the somatic growth and the development of the sex organs in our body. The hypothalamus coordinates the secretion of gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) which stimulates the release of follicle stimulating hormone (FSH) and luteinizing hormone (LH) from the anterior pituitary gland.

In prepubertal children, no significant amount of LH and FSH is observed. As puberty approaches, the brain produces gonadotropin-releasing hormone which signals the pituitary gland to release FSH and LH into the bloodstream. FSH and LH will act on the gonads (reproductive glands) to stimulate the synthesis and release of the female sex steroid hormones like estrogen and progesterone.

These hormones are responsible for the profound biological, morphological, and psychological changes to prepare the girl’s body for the reproductive phase. During puberty, girls will experience a sudden increase in height and weight, breast development followed by development of other secondary sex characteristics. Normally, these changes will occur sequentially during puberty, resulting in sexual maturity.

Role of growth hormones and insulin in Puberty

There is accumulating evidence that during puberty, the production rate of growth hormone (GH) and insulin usually doubles and plays a role in pubertal growth surge. The rise in GH during puberty follows a close temporal relationship with the growth velocity. A significant percentage of the final adult height is attained during puberty.

Insulin-like growth factor (IGF) is another hormone that is involved in the proliferation and function of nearly every cell, tissue and organ in the human body. The rise in levels of GH will trigger the release of IGF, which will plays a key role in coordinating the timing of puberty onset.

Physical changes during puberty

Puberty can cause a lot of visible changes in your body.

Generally, there are five stages of puberty. Each stage reflects the progressive modifications that happen in the body during puberty. Initially, there will not be any noticeable physical changes. As the the brain starts to send signals to the body to prepare for changes, the ovaries will enlarge and hormone production begins. Usually the first sign of puberty in girls is the beginning of breast development, which is followed by development of other secondary sex characteristics.

Here is a brief overview of the changes that happen:

  • Breast development: Breast development usually begins by the age of eight to 13 years. The formation of breast buds signifies the onset of puberty. A small amount of firm, often tender tissue under the nipple will become slightly raised and slowly form breasts. The areola (the circle of colored skin around the nipple) will also get larger at this time.
  • Pubic hair: The second sign of puberty will be growth of hair in the pubic area. Initially, these hairs will appear sparse, light and straight; however, throughout the course of puberty they will become coarser, thicker and darker. It may spread to the thighs and sometimes up the stomach.
  • Menarche: It is the first occurrence of menstrual period and marks the beginning of the fertile days. Most girls reach menarche around 12 to 13 years of age; however, it may occur earlier or later in some girls. Usually, menarche will occur about 2 to 3 years after the first appearance of breast buds. The onset of menarche is associated with a gradual increase in hormones like estrogen. Abdominal cramping or pain with periods is also common.
  • Increase in height: Generally, girls have their growth spurt at a younger age than boys and it will be at a faster rate when breast buds start to develop. The growth rate will then reduce considerably, usually stopping between the ages of 14 and 16.
  • Wider hips: With the onset of puberty, the female pelvis will expand and is influenced by hormonal changes in puberty. Widening of the pelvis is a part of sexual differentiation and to permit the passage of fetus during childbirth. Also, during puberty, percentage of body fat increases in girls and accumulates in the hips and thighs.
  • Other changes:
    • Increased sweat production
    • Oily skin
    • Acne
    • Growth of underarm hair

Puberty not only results in physical changes, it also causes big social changes, emotional changes and mood swings. As you are in the process of becoming an adult, you may feel inclined to figure out what makes you unique as a person. It’s common to feel confused, scared, angry and upset than usual. This maybe uncomfortable at times, you can seek help from your parents and dear ones.

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