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Classification & external resources
ICD-9 253.3, 259.4

Dwarfism refers to a condition of extreme small size of an animal, or plant. Any type of marked human smallness could be termed dwarfism in older popular and medical usage. The term as related to human beings (the major subject of this article) is often used to refer specifically to those forms of extreme shortness characterized by disproportion of body parts, typically due to an inheritable disorder in bone or cartilage development.

Forms of extreme shortness characterized by proportional body parts usually have a hormonal or nutritional cause. An example is growth hormone deficiency, once known as "pituitary dwarfism".

The Little People of America (LPA) defines dwarfism as a medical or genetic condition that usually results in an adult height of 4'10" (147 cm) or shorter.[1]

Look up dwarf in Wiktionary, the free dictionary.


Types of dwarfism

  • rhizomelic = root, e.g. bones of upper arm or thigh
  • mesomelic = middle, e.g. bones of forearm or lower leg
  • acromelic = end, e.g. bones of hands and feet.

When the cause of dwarfism is understood, it may be classified according to one of hundreds of names, which are usually permutations of the following roots:

  • chondro = of cartilage
  • osteo = of bone
  • spondylo = of the vertebrae
  • plasia = form
  • trophy = growth

Examples include achondroplasia, osseous dysplasia, chondrodystrophy, and osteochondrodystrophy.[2]

The most recognizable and most common form of dwarfism is achondroplasia, which produces rhizomelic short limbs, increased spinal curvature, and distortion of skull growth. It accounts for 70% of dwarfism cases. Other relatively common types include spondyloepiphyseal dysplasia congenita (SED), diastrophic dysplasia, pseudoachondroplasia, hypochondroplasia, and osteogenesis imperfecta (OI). Severe shortness with skeletal distortion also occurs in several of the mucopolysaccharidoses and other storage diseases.

The average adult height of male and females with dwarfism is 132cm and 123cm respectively. The average weight of an adult may range from 100 to 150 pounds (45-68 kg).


Unusually short stature for a child's age is usually what brings the child to medical attention. Skeletal dysplasia ("dwarfism") is usually suspected because of obvious physical features (e.g., unusual configuration of face or shape of skull), because of an obviously affected parent, or because body measurements (arm span, upper to lower segment ratio) indicate disproportion. Bone x-rays are often the key to diagnosis of a specific skeletal dysplasia, but they are not the key diagnosis. Most children with suspected skeletal dysplasias will be referred to a genetics clinic for diagnostic confirmation and genetic counselling. (See External links, below, for a list of American referral centers with special expertise in skeletal dysplasias.) In the last decade, genetic tests for some of the specific disorders have become available.

During the initial medical evaluation for shortness, the absence of disproportion and the other clues above usually indicates other causes than bone dysplasias. Extreme shortness with completely normal proportions sometimes indicates growth hormone deficiency (pituitary dwarfism).

Short stature alone, in the absence of any other abnormalities, may simply be genetic, particularly if a person is born into a family of people who are relatively short.

Problems associated with dwarfism

The principal adverse effects of dwarfism can be divided into the physical and the social.

Physical effects of malformed bones vary according to the specific disease. Many involve pain resulting from joint damage from abnormal bone alignment, or from nerve compression (e.g, spinal stenosis).[1]. Early degenerative joint disease, exaggerated lordosis or scoliosis, and constriction of spinal cord or nerve roots can cause pain and disability. Reduced thoracic size can restrict lung growth and reduce pulmonary function. Some forms of dwarfism are associated with disordered function of other organs, such as the brain or liver, sometimes severely enough to be more disabling than the abnormal bone growth.

The psychosocial disadvantages may be more distressing than the physical symptoms, especially in childhood and adolescence, but people with dwarfism vary greatly in the degree to which social participation and emotional health are affected.

  • Social prejudice against extreme shortness may reduce social and marital opportunities.
See also: heightism
  • Numerous studies have demonstrated reduced employment opportunities. Severe shortness is associated with lower income.[citation needed]
  • Self-esteem may be reduced and family relationships affected
  • Extreme shortness (in the low 2–3 foot [60–90 cm] range) can interfere with ordinary activities of daily living, like driving or even using countertops built for taller people.

Treatment and support

As the genetic defects of most forms of dwarfism due to bone dysplasia cannot be corrected, therapeutic interventions are typically aimed at (1) preventing or reducing pain or physical disability, (2) increasing adult height, or (3) mitigating psychosocial stresses and enhancing social adaptation.

Pain and disability may be ameliorated by physical therapy, by braces or other orthotic devices, or by surgical procedures. The only simple interventions that increase perceived adult height are dress enhancements such as shoe lifts or hairstyle. Growth hormone is rarely used for shortness due to bone dysplasias, as the height benefit is typically small (less than 5 cm) and the cost high. The most effective means of increasing adult height by several inches is limb-lengthening surgery, though availability is limited and cost is high in terms of dollars, discomfort, and interruption of life. Most people with dwarfism do not avail themselves of this, and it remains controversial.[1] For other types of dwarfism, surgical treatment is not possible.

Dwarfism in non-Western cultures

In the Talmud, it is said that the second born son of the Egyptian Pharaoh of the Bible was a dwarf.[3]

In popular culture and the arts


  When depicted in art, literature, or movies, dwarves are rarely depicted as "regular people who are very short" but often as a species apart. Novelists, artists, and moviemakers attach special moral or aesthetic significance to the "apartness" or the misshapenness.

Artistic representations of dwarfism can be found on Greek vases and other ancient artefacts, including ancient Egyptian art. Documentation of dwarves can also be found on European paintings and many pictures. Many European paintings (especially Spanish) of the 16th–19th centuries depict dwarves by themselves or with others.

In Jonathan Swift's "Gulliver's Travels", the protagonist encounters in the court of the Giants' Kingdom the strong enmity of the local "dwarf", who is "only" twenty feet high (where normal giants measure forty feet) and resents being displaced by "a smaller dwarf".

Several novels have treated dwarfism as a major theme, although not necessarily realistically:

  • The Tin Drum (Die Blechtrommel) by Günter Grass
  • Stones from the River by Ursula Hegi
  • The Dwarf by Pär Lagerkvist
  • A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
  • A Son of the Circus by John Irving
  • "Hop-Frog, or The Eight Chained Ourang-Outangs" by Edgar Allan Poe
  • Maybe the Moon by Armistead Maupin
  • Swords and Crowns and Rings by Ruth Park
  • Tale of the Wind by Kay Nolte Smith
  • Memoir of a Dwarf in the Sun King's Court by Paul Weidner
  • The Eye of Night by Pauline Alama
  • Mendel's Dwarf by Simon Mawer
  • Cat's Cradle by Kurt Vonnegut
  • A Song of Ice and Fire by George R.R. Martin

Leslie Fiedler's Freaks: Myths and Images of the Secret Self (1979) explored the value of differentness of "freaks" to "normal" people, lamenting medical treatment for reducing the number of picturesquely different people around.

Several 20th and 21st century movies & TV shows have addressed the topic or made much use of dwarves:

  • Freaks (1932)
  • The Terror of Tiny Town (1938)
  • The Wizard of Oz (1939)
  • Even Dwarves Started Small (Auch Zwerge haben klein angefangen) (1970)
  • Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory (1971)
  • The Man With The Golden Gun (1974)
  • Time Bandits (1981)
  • Under the Rainbow (1981)
  • Willow (1988)
  • Leprechaun (film) (1992)
  • Austin Powers: The Spy Who Shagged Me (1999)
  • Austin Powers in Goldmember (2002)
  • Monster Garage (2002–2006)
  • Jackass: The Movie (2002)
  • The Station Agent (2003)
  • Tiptoes (2003)
  • Little People, Big World (2006) – Reality TV series following the daily lives of a family with two dwarf parents and one dwarf child (as well as three other children of average height)
  • The Benchwarmers (2006)
  • The Science of Dwarfism (2007), a special aired on the National Geographic Channel

The actor and stunt man Verne Troyer has become famous playing the character "Mini-Me" in two Austin Powers movies, as has fellow stuntman and Jackass cast-member, Jason "Wee-Man" Acuña .

The 1960s television series The Wild Wild West featured a dwarf, Michael Dunn, as the recurring character Dr. Miguelito Loveless, the brilliant but insane arch-enemy of Secret Service agents James West and Artemus Gordon.

In the mid-1970's, Sid and Marty Krofft built an indoor theme park in Atlanta, Georgia called The World of Sid and Marty Krofft. This had a live stage production that was at that time the largest gathering of "little people" since the filming of The Wizard of Oz in 1937-38 as well as being the largest indoor theme park built to that time. The facility that was built to house this theme park is today the studios of CNN, the Cable News Network, and CNN Headline News.

In the 1990s, the immensely popular series Seinfeld featured a dwarf character, Mickey Abbott, in seven episodes; Mickey was played by actor Danny Woodburn. He got into several physical altercations with six-foot-plus Kramer. In one episode, he was ostracized by his dwarf peers for using lifts in his shoes to make him look taller.

Arguably the most famous dwarf actor is Warwick Davis, having found success in several notable fantasy franchises, including Star Wars, Harry Potter, Willow, Leprechaun, Gulliver's Travels, and The Chronicles of Narnia (both the 1989 television serial and again in the upcoming 2008 film version of Prince Caspian).

From 1999 until 2003, the popular television series The Man Show featured dwarves in many of their segments. They once claimed to be "the world's largest employer of midgets".

In Mind of Mencia, one of the main characters is a dwarf named Brad Williams. Brad is a comedian who tours with Carlos Mencia as his opening act.

In Monster Garage, Chris "Body Drop" Artiaga made his début as a contestant in episode 'Ramp Rage', but later became parts runner for the series. In addition, there are 2 episodes featuring all-dwarf build teams.

In George R.R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, one of the main characters, Tyrion Lannister, is a dwarf. Though a brilliant and well-read man (some would say genius), he struggles with acceptance by "normal" people, who pejoratively refer to him as "the Imp," or "half-man". This is especially true of his father, Lord Tywin Lannister, who holds Tyrion in contempt, especially when compared to Tyrion's handsome, talented older brother Jaime, and Jaime's equally beautiful and talented twin sister, Cersei. Tyrion often wonders if any woman could ever truly love him in spite of his condition.

Johnny Roventini was a dwarf bellboy in a New York City hotel when he was paid $1 to "Call for Phillip Morris", unknowingly beginning his 40-year career as an advertising icon in radio, television, and print media.

See also


  1. ^ a b c Dwarfism Resources: Frequently Asked Questions. Little People of America (2006-7-9). Archived from the original on 2007-07-12. Retrieved on 2006-11-14.
  2. ^ Dwarfism and Dysplasias - Wheeless' Textbook of Orthopaedics. Retrieved on 2007-12-07.
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License. It uses material from the Wikipedia article "Dwarfism". A list of authors is available in Wikipedia.
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