Failure to Thrive
What is failure to thrive?
Failure to thrive is defined as failure to gain weight appropriately for age. The
reason for failure to thrive is often inadequate nutrition but can be due to other
medical conditions. Severe failure to thrive can negatively impact a child's well-being
including their cognitive development and immune function.
What causes failure to thrive?
Failure to thrive has many different causes. Sometimes more than one cause may contribute
to the condition at the same time. If an infant is not offered enough food or is
not willing to eat enough food, or vomits repeatedly (such as with severe gastroesophageal
reflux), there will not be enough calories to support growth. A child who is unable
to absorb enough calories (such as with severe allergies or a medical condition
like cystic fibrosis) will also not grow as expected. Any condition that causes a
child to need more calories than normally expected may also lead to failure to thrive.
Additional possibilities include:
Who is affected by failure to thrive?
Infants can be affected if the right kinds or amounts of food are not given or are
unavailable. For example, too much fruit juice, problems breastfeeding, or failure
to introduce solids at an appropriate age may lead to too few calories being consumed.
Babies and children with developmental delay or problems swallowing may consume
too few calories. Conditions such as cystic fibrosis, celiac disease, or severe allergy
or intolerance may consume enough food, but not be able to absorb it properly. A child
with a chronic medical condition, such as congenital heart disease or a genetic
syndrome, may need more calories than expected.
What are the symptoms of failure to thrive?
The following are the most common symptoms of failure to thrive. However, each child
may experience symptoms differently. Symptoms may include:
Lack of appropriate weight gain
Lack of age-appropriate social response (such as smile)
Does not make vocal sounds
Delayed motor development
Learning and behavior difficulties later in childhood
How is failure to thrive diagnosed?
Failure to thrive is usually discovered and diagnosed by the infant's healthcare provider.
Infants are always weighed and measured when seen by their healthcare providers for
well-baby check-ups. The healthcare provider begins a more complete evaluation when
the infant's growth, development, and functioning are found to be delayed.
Treatment for failure to thrive
Specific treatment for failure to thrive will be determined by your child's healthcare
provider based on:
How old your child is
His or her overall health and past health
How sick he or she is
How well your child can handle specific medicines, procedures, or therapies
How long the condition is expected to last
Your opinion or preference
The individual issues involved in causing failure to thrive are almost always complex.
Hospitalization may be needed to help determine the underlying cause. Treatment depends
on the cause of the condition and may involve a team of healthcare providers. This
includes social workers, nutritionists, physical therapists, geneticists, and other
Online Medical Reviewers:
- Adler, Liora C, MD
- Chan, Albert, MD
- Cunningham, Louise, RN
- Dozier, Tennille, RN, BSN, RDMS