Failure to thrive refers to a child's inability to gain weight and grow as expected. Most diagnoses of failure to thrive are made in the first few years of life.

More to Know

Failure to thrive can be caused by a variety of medical conditions and social factors ranging from gastrointestinal problems and metabolic disorders to poor nutrition and emotional deprivation.

Infants or children who fail to thrive do not follow standard growth charts for height, weight, and head circumference. In addition, their weight is lower than the 3rd percentile and 20% below the ideal weight for their height. Their personal growth curve may slow down or stop altogether.

Undernourished kids can become constipated, disinterested in their surroundings, irritable, and lethargic. They might not reach developmental milestones like sitting up, walking, and talking at the usual age. Teenagers might not see the changes that puberty usually brings.

Failure to thrive is treated according to the cause. The primary goal of treatment is usually to increase the number and quality of calories consumed.

Keep in Mind

When diagnosed and treated early, infants and children who are failing to thrive can begin or continue to grow and develop normally.

All A to Z dictionary entries are regularly reviewed by KidsHealth medical experts.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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