Child Developmental Delays and Disorders: Failure to Thrive

FP Essent. 2021 Nov;510:22-27.


Failure to thrive (FTT), or faltering growth, describes a complex group of clinical scenarios that manifest as abnormalities of growth. A thorough history and physical examination typically reveal the diagnosis, so laboratory tests and diagnostic imaging often are unnecessary. Hospitalization rarely is needed. The differential diagnosis includes gastrointestinal, metabolic, endocrine, and genetic conditions; feeding difficulties; developmental and sensory issues; and family dynamics. Children with FTT are at risk of future growth and development problems. Family physicians play an important role in the care of children with growth issues, as they care for the entire family, offer a holistic perspective, and have a thorough knowledge of community resources. In recent years, the multifactorial nature of FTT has been recognized, as has the importance of the use of multidisciplinary teams in treatment. Counseling on enhanced nutrition and referral to occupational and speech therapy subspecialists when needed are well within the scope of family physician practice. Home visitation programs can make a significant difference for patients with FTT and their families. If needed, many children’s hospitals offer multidisciplinary feeding teams. Children without significant medical comorbidities who are treated with enhanced nutrition have a good prognosis for returning to a healthy baseline.


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