What are the Signs, Causes and Treatments of Failure to Thrive (FTT)?

CME WebsitesChild Development

Failure to thrive (FTT) is a medical term given to a baby or toddler with poor weight gain and physical growth failure over an extended period of time.
Failure to thrive does not imply abnormal intellectual, social, or emotional development.

What are the Signs of Failure to Thrive?

Failure to thrive is a weight consistently below the 3rd to the 5th percentile for age, progressive decrease in weight to below the 3rd to the 5th percentile, or a decrease in the percentile rank of 2 major growth parameters in a short period.

What are the Causes of Failure to Thrive

Failure to thrive syndrome may be an identified medical condition or related to environmental factors. Both types relate to inadequate nutrition.

Medical causes of Failure to thrive include:

  • Gastroesophageal reflux
  • Chronic diarrhea
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Celiac disease, resulting from sensitivity to wheat and some other grains
  • Prematurely or a cleft lip or palate can interfere with a child’s ability to eat
  • An intolerance of milk protein leading to difficulty with absorbing nutrients
  • Infections such as parasites, urinary tract infections or tuberculosis
  • Metabolic disorders

Environmental Causes of Failure to Thrive Include:

  • Environmental neglect (e.g. lack of food)
  • Lack of food due to impoverishment
  • Poor understanding of feeding techniques
  • Improperly prepared formula (e.g. overdiluting formula to stretch it because of financial difficulties)
  • An inadequate supply of breast milk (because the mother is under stress, exhausted, or poorly nourished)

Treatment of Failure to Thrive

The first step is to treat any medical disease or disorder that’s causing the problem, so the team might involve a cardiologist, neurologist or gastroenterologist.

If the cause is determined to be environmental, a social worker, psychologist and/or other mental health professional may work with the parents to provide guidance and support. Treatment aims to restore proper nutrition.