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What is Achondroplasia?

Tricia Christensen
Updated: Mar 03, 2024

Achondroplasia is a type of dwarfism caused by inheritance of a mutated gene, or direct mutation of a gene. Since the cartilage fails to form properly, the bones cannot grow as they normally would. This results in failure of the bones to reach normal adult size. Most with Achondroplasia reach a height of about four feet (1.21 m) at adulthood.

Achondroplasia is called an autosomal dominant condition, because people need inherit only one gene mutation in order to cause the condition. Thus one parent with this disorder has a 50% chance of passing on the gene to each child. Inheriting two genes for it is fatal.

If both parents have the disorder, they have a 25% chance of passing on two of the mutated genes to each child. Two inherited genes for this condition are usually not survivable. Sadly, children who inherit two mutated genes die at birth or shortly thereafter.

Even though Achondroplasia is considered autosomal dominant, there are some people who are born with the condition to parents without outward signs of dwarfism. They clearly don’t have the gene, because carrying the gene would mean they would have the condition. Thus in rare cases, the gene may mutate on its own and create the condition. Studies have shown this to be linked to mutations of the sperm cells from the father. Such mutations become more common as men age.

Still the condition is not exactly common. It is present in all races in about 1 in 20,000 to 40,000 births. That is .005% - .0025% of the general population. It remains a difficult, but relatively rare condition.

Generally, Achondroplasia can be diagnosed in utero through genetics testing early in the pregnancy, since the gene responsible has been identified. Further, ultrasound in the second half of a pregnancy shows signs of the disorder. In particular, length of the femur does not accord with its width as the pregnancy progresses.

Diagnosis after birth is made through physical exam and x-ray, which shows developmental problems with many of the bones. The achondroplasic adult can be recognized by his or her short stature, bowing of the legs, relatively large head but small nose, curvature of the spine, and short fingers and toes. Although the condition often brings unwanted comments from insensitive people, it is not usually life threatening.

There are a few complications common to those with Achondroplasia. They may have slightly delayed development as children, and are quite prone to ear infections. Some children have an increased risk for developing hydrocephalus, or water on the brain. Aside from these complications, which are present in many without the disorder, it usually results in the same life span as those without the gene.

Recently doctors have begun attempting surgery and/or medication to help those with Achondroplasia achieve greater height. These surgeries include bone-lengthening surgeries, which break the bone and then stimulate regrowth in order to attain taller stature. Further, some physicians are experimenting with the use of human growth hormone on those with the condition to attempt greater growing potential. These studies are still in their infancy.

Some with dwarfism protest these interventions and criticize doctors, especially, for bone lengthening surgeries. These surgeries typically are quite painful for children for long periods of time. People with this form of dwarfism may argue that since the condition is not life threatening, these surgeries are merely cosmetic and inflict unnecessary pain on a child. Conversely, some parents feel the physical pain of surgeries may save children from experiencing the emotional pain of criticism by peer groups.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Tricia Christensen
By Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia Christensen is based in Northern California and brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to her writing. Her wide-ranging interests include reading, writing, medicine, art, film, history, politics, ethics, and religion, all of which she incorporates into her informative articles. Tricia is currently working on her first novel.
Discussion Comments
By anon252933 — On Mar 07, 2012

I think this disease would be horrible to have -- the same with any disease, actually.

By anon128197 — On Nov 18, 2010

I totally agree with anon123036. My sister has achondroplasia, and she is probably several times smarter. She knows that this "disease" is not a big deal. She knows she doesn't need your pity. And she probably knows that you don't care a lick, you just think she's some sort of fascinating display.

To the author of this article, good information. You might also want to include something about the FGFR3 mutation.

By anon123036 — On Oct 30, 2010

To say that this "disease" is horrible is quite funny. They get around and live life just like anyone else. It's actually quite ridiculous that you say that. Just because they're shorter in stature doesn't mean it's harder form them mentally. I love that you act superior to them even though the only thing you probably have on them is a foot.

By anon78553 — On Apr 19, 2010

i find this disease to be particularly interesting. The ways that it affects your body are astonishing. it would be horrible to have this disease. If you have this disease just know that there are people out there that care!

Tricia Christensen
Tricia Christensen
With a Literature degree from Sonoma State University and years of experience as a The Health Board contributor, Tricia...
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