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Growth hormone therapy in adults with growth hormone deficiency: a critical assessment of the literature

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Growth hormone (GH) therapy has been studied as treatment for clinical manifestations of adult-onset growth hormone deficiency (AO-GHD), including cardiovascular risk, bone health, and quality of life. Patients with AO-GHD typically also have significant history of pituitary pathology and hypopituitarism, which raises the question of what proportion of their clinical presentation can be attributed to GHD alone. Currently, much of the existing data for GH therapy in AO-GHD come from uncontrolled retrospective studies and observational protocols. These considerations require careful reassessment of the role of GH as a therapeutic agent in adult patients with hypopituitarism.


We contrast results from placebo-controlled trials with those from uncontrolled and retrospective studies for GH replacement in patients with hypopituitarism. We also examine the evidence for the manifestations of AO-GHD being attributed to GHD alone, as well as the data on adults with congenital, life-long untreated isolated GHD.


The evidence for increased morbidity and mortality in hypopituitary patients with GHD, and for the benefits of GH therapy, are conflicting. There remains the possibility that the described clinical manifestations of AO-GHD may not be due to GHD alone, but may also be related to underlying pituitary pathology, treatment history and suboptimal hormone replacement.


In the setting of inconsistent data on the benefits of GH therapy, treatment of AO-GHD remains an individualized decision. There is a need for more randomized, placebo-controlled studies to evaluate the long-term outcomes of GH therapy in adults with hypopituitarism.

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The authors would like to thank Richard J. Auchus for his critical review of the manuscript.

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Correspondence to Ariel L. Barkan.

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He, X., Barkan, A.L. Growth hormone therapy in adults with growth hormone deficiency: a critical assessment of the literature. Pituitary (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11102-020-01031-5

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  • Adult-onset growth hormone deficiency
  • Hypopituitarism
  • GH replacement