Pediatric Failure to Thrive
Failure to thrive is a condition in which a child’s current weight or rate of weight gain is much lower than that of other children of similar age and gender. It can be the result of certain medical conditions or environmental factors.
At Children’s Health℠, we work closely with both you and your primary care provider so that everyone involved has the information they need to create the best outcomes for your child.
Several factors can contribute to your child's failure to thrive. At Children’s Health, we use a multidisciplinary approach to diagnose, treat and care for children who are failing to thrive. This allows us to offer our patients care by multiple specialists and experts, in a single appointment, at one location.
Medical conditions that may lead to failure to thrive include:
- Feeding problems
- Thyroid problems
- Hormone problems
- Gastrointestinal problems that make it difficult to absorb nutrients
- Heart disease
- Cystic fibrosis
Environmental factors that may lead to failure to thrive include:
- Exposure to infections, parasites, or environmental toxins
- A lack of understanding about the child’s dietary needs
- A lack of an emotional bond between the parent and the child
- Weight loss
- Lack of weight gain
- Height, weight, and head circumference that do not match standard growth charts
- Weight lower than the third percentile of standard growth charts, or 20 percent below the ideal weight for the child’s height
- Growth that has stopped or slowed
- Delayed physical skills (such as rolling over, sitting, standing, walking)
- Delayed mental skills
- Delayed social skills
- Delayed secondary sexual characteristics (in adolescents)
Tests and Diagnosis
There are several tests to diagnose failure to thrive. A doctor will go over your child's medical history and perform a physical exam. Your healthcare provider may also perform one or more of the following tests:
- Denver Developmental Screening Test: a test designed to identify developmental delays in children
- Blood tests to look for underlying medical causes
- Urine tests to look for underlying medical causes
- X-rays to determine growth issues
Not every child needs all these tests. Your physician will tell you exactly what the next steps are. Our diverse group of gastroenterology specialists sees over 1,000 children a month, and we have the resources to diagnose and treat a range of conditions.
The reason for your child's failure to thrive will determine the treatment. Your healthcare provider may recommend one or more of the following treatments:
- Treatments for any contributing medical conditions
- Parental education to address your child’s dietary needs
- Nutritional therapy to promote weight gain and to correct any vitamin or mineral deficiencies
- Family counseling to treat any contributing psychological or emotional issues
Children’s Health is at the forefront of research into new treatments for pediatric gastrointestinal conditions. We use a multidisciplinary approach to caring for your child. This allows us to offer our patients care from multiple specialists and experts, in a single appointment, at one location. If your child has symptoms of failure to thrive, contact us. We provide the comprehensive and individualized care necessary to put your child back on the path to a healthy life.
For more information, refer to the following resources:
This page presents helpful information about failure to thrive:
American Academy of Pediatrics
For audio and Spanish presentations of information on failure to thrive, see
Detailed information, including causes, is presented here:
Five causes of failure to thrive:
What is failure to thrive?
Failure to thrive is a condition in which a child’s current weight or rate of weight gain is much lower than that of other children of similar age and gender.
What causes failure to thrive?
Failure to thrive can be caused by certain medical conditions or by environmental factors (such as poverty, abuse or neglect).
How do I know if my child has failure to thrive?
If your child has symptoms of failure to thrive, you should have her evaluated by a physician. Symptoms of failure to thrive may include weight loss, lack of weight gain, growth that has stopped or slowed, delayed physical skills, delayed mental skills, delayed social skills, and delayed secondary sexual characteristics (in adolescents).
What tests are used to diagnose failure to thrive?
Tests used to diagnose failure to thrive include screening tests, blood tests, urine tests and X-rays.
How is failure to thrive treated?
Treatments for failure to thrive may include treating any contributing medical conditions, education, nutritional therapy and family counseling.