All You Need to Know about Puberty

What do we mean by puberty?

The term “puberty” refers to the period when a process of sexual maturation is experienced by the maturing boys or girls. This process usually involves a sequence of physical steps which can result in the development of secondary sex characteristics for both sexes. (For example, the development of pubic hair). While a sequence of physical or biological transformations is usually involved during puberty, it is also possible for the process to influence the emotional as well as physical development of adolescents.

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Facts about puberty:

  1. Puberty happens to be the period when a boy or girl is maturing sexually and also achieves fertility.
  2. Environmental, as well as genetic aspects, are both involved during puberty.
  3. Different individuals experience puberty at different stages of their lives; nevertheless, girls usually undergo puberty when they are 10 to 14 years of age and boys typically experience puberty when they are 12 to 16 years of age.
  4. During puberty, there is a development of secondary sexual characteristics at a rapid rate.

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  1. An important role is played by the body fat and also the body composition when it comes to controlling the commencement of puberty.
  2. In general, the girls will be having more advanced puberty as compared to the boys.
  3. The term CPP (central precocious puberty) actually refers to the puberty which takes place prematurely because of the production of certain hormones within our system.
  4. During puberty, one might experience certain medical conditions that might aggravate over time.
  5. At the time of puberty, any person might experience emotional as well as mood alterations.

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At what time does puberty occur?

The time when puberty commences will vary from one individual to another. In general, girls experience puberty when they are 10 to 14 years of age, and the boys experience it a bit later between the ages of 12 years and 16 years. However, it has been observed that puberty starts earlier in case of certain African-American girls when they are only 9 years old.

At present, the adolescent girls usually attain puberty at an early age than what was recorded previously. The factors responsible for this happen to be nutritional as well as other environmental influences. For instance, girls used to experience menstruation for the first time when they were 15 years old in 1900. However, by the 90s, there was a significant drop in this average to approximately 12 years of age.

Indications of Central Precocious Puberty:

By the term “secondary sex changes”, we refer to those physical modifications which are related to the progressive increment in the production of sex hormones such as progesterone and estrogen in case of females and testosterone in case of males. These types of secondary sex changes consist of the following:

  1. Enlargement of the penis as well as the testicles, plus the development of pubic hair, facial hair, and auxiliary hair.
  2. Development of breast tissue.
  3. Commencement of menstrual periods.
  4. Development of body smell.
  5. Increment in the production of sweat.
  6. Increment in the strength as well as the size of the muscles.
  7. Height increment at a rapid rate.

What determines the commencement of puberty?

We are yet to fully comprehend the timing when puberty is going to start and it is usually figured out by several factors in combination. According to one particular theory, the commencement of puberty will depend on the individual reaching a critical body composition. It has been observed in recent times that there might be a relationship between the increment in childhood obesity and the overall premature onset of puberty.

The fat cells within our system are responsible for producing a hormone known as leptin that might play an important role when it comes to the commencement of puberty. It has been found by research that animals which do not produce this particular hormone will not usually experience puberty, although the process started once these animals were administered with the hormone. Moreover, girls having a higher concentration of leptin usually experience an enhanced percentage of body fat as well as an early commencement of puberty as compared to those girls having low levels of leptin. In fact, it has been observed that there is an enhanced concentration of leptin in the blood just before the onset of puberty in both genders.

Genetic factors can also be responsible in figuring out the timing of puberty which usually occurs at a particular time in a particular family. Apart from this, a particular gene which seems to be accountable for the normal development of puberty has also been identified. This gene called GPR54 actually encodes a protein which seems to have a significant effect on the production of GPR54 by the hypothalamus. People who don’t have this particular gene’s functional copy are unable to enter puberty in a normal way.

The physical stages of puberty in both genders:

A typical pattern is depicted by the modifications which usually take place at the time of puberty in both boys and girls along with a sequence of events. The initial indication of puberty in case of the majority of the girls happens to be the development of the breast which occurs at an average age of 11 years. Following this, there is a development of pubic hair after which girls usually experience growth of hair in their armpits. However, a small percentage of girls started developing their pubic hair before the development of their breasts. Menstruation usually takes place at a later stage as compared any other physical change and typically happens after two and a half years following the commencement of puberty.

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There is a development of a regular pattern of ovulation which corresponds to the attainment of fertility once any girl starts experiencing menstrual periods. Nevertheless, girls having menstrual periods at a later stage (after 13 years of age) usually have lower rates of ovulation during the time after the commencement of menstruation. According to some studies, approximately 50% of the adolescent girls who start menstruating for the first time after reaching 13 years of age are not going to ovulate at regular intervals during the subsequent 4 years.

When it comes to boys, the first significant change that is observed during puberty happens to be an increment in the size of their testicles. This change starts approximately when the boys are 11 years old and continues for approximately 6 months. Following this, boys usually experience an enhancement in the size of their penis. Next, comes the development of the pubic hair. Subsequently, there is a growth of hair in the armpits as well. Next, the voices of the boys are going to become deeper and there will also be an increment in the size of the muscles. Lastly, boys will usually experience growth of their facial hair. Males are going to achieve fertility close to the commencement of puberty when they start producing sperm.

Physicians refer to this sequence of changes during puberty as SMR (sexual maturity rating) or Tanner stages which has been named after a medical practitioner who was responsible for publishing a description of this sequence in the year 1969. It is possible to figure out the SMR by the advancement of secondary sex characteristics and it comprises of alterations in the appearance and size of the external genitalia, the development of breast in girls, and also the growth of pubic hair. Physicians use the Tanner stages to classify the extent of the growth of sex characteristics into as many as 5 different steps which range from the first stage (prepubertal) to the fifth stage (mature adult type).

Other changes that take place during puberty:

Puberty is usually accompanied by a rapid increment in height which is usually called a growth spurt. This increment in height usually continues for around 2 or 3 years. Approximately 20% of the adults will experience this increment of height during puberty. Despite the fact that this modification can affect the limbs as well as the trunk, it is the limb which shows the indications of growth at first. Girls will usually experience this alteration in height at an earlier stage as compared to the boys, precisely about 2 years before the boys. The growth spurt will usually precede the commencement of menstruation by approximately 6 months in case of girls.

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Mineralization and development of bones:

During puberty, one will typically experience the development of bones as well as an increment of the bone density. When it comes to girls, bone mineralization is going to become maximum when their menstrual period is going to start. It has been shown by studies that the width of the bones is going to increase at first, which is followed by the bone mineral content and then by the bone density. However, the adolescents might experience fractures in the bones during this period because of the lag between the achievement of proper bone density and bone growth.

Both genders will experience alterations in their body composition as well as weight during this time. The adolescent girls will start developing an enhanced proportion of body fat as compared to the boys and the fat is going to be redistributed towards the upper as well as lower sections of the body which can result in a curvy appearance. Boys will likewise experience an increment in the development of body fat although the development of muscles will be faster. They will be having a muscle mass approximately two times more as compared to that of the girls of similar size while their puberty comes to an end.

Other modifications:

There will be an enhanced working capacity of the lungs as well as cardiovascular systems which might be accompanied by an overall increment in strength and endurance. The boys will usually experience these changes more than the girls.

What emotional alterations take place in puberty?

Emotional changes accompanied by certain physical alterations are experienced by both genders with the onset of puberty. However, these alterations differ from one adolescent to another. Many of them experience anxiety, mood swings, sensitivity, as well as confusion during this time. On the contrary, every emotional change might not be linked to negative feelings or thoughts at this time. During puberty, the young individual will also learn regarding their own interests and objectives and also how to communicate with other individuals in a more mature manner. Although it is quite natural to experience these emotional changes during puberty, it is advisable to consult a physician in case these alterations become too much severe and affect our daily activities significantly. One might even think of harming other individuals including themselves.

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Medical concerns linked with puberty:

Although it is a fact that puberty is not an illness by any means, an individual might experience medical conditions while experiencing puberty for the first time. Some of these conditions have been mentioned in the following paragraphs.

  1. Acne

This happens to be an inflammation of the hair follicles of the epidermis as well as the sebaceous glands, which becomes more pronounced on the face of the person although it might likewise appear on other parts of the body including the back, the neck, the chest, and so on. During puberty, the adolescent will also experience hormonal changes which can result in the development of acne in the long run.

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  1. Gynecomastia

This condition refers to the enlargement of the breasts in males. The changes in the hormone that take place during puberty can lead to transient gynecomastia in boys which can last for 6 to 18 months on an average. This condition happens at an age of approximately 13 years and affects nearly 50% of the normal adolescent males out there.

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  1. Scoliosis

Scoliosis which means the abnormal curvature of one’s spine can happen because of the rapid development during puberty and this condition can become aggravated over time as well.

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  1. Changes in vision

Myopia or nearsightedness takes place on many occasions at the time of puberty due to development of the eye’s axial diameter.

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  1. Musculoskeletal injuries

These types of injuries can happen in adolescents at the time of the growth spurt and also during the development of the muscle mass. There are also incidents of fractures in some cases given that the development of bone typically happens before the full bone mineralization. Moreover, the movements of some of these joints might become restricted since the development in the limbs typically takes place before the development of the trunk. This, in turn, might result in the development of strains and sprains.