Thyroid disorders are a type of endocrine disorder affecting as many as 37 in 1,000 school-aged children in the United States. Keep reading for more information about thyroid disorders in children and the signs and symptoms that parents need to know.
About Thyroid Disorders
The thyroid is a gland located in the neck (just below the Adam’s apple) that produces thyroid hormones. These hormones are responsible for regulating everything from your child’s heart rate and temperature to their metabolism.
Hyperthyroidism refers to an overactive thyroid gland in which excess thyroid hormone is produced. On the other hand, hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. Both are treatable, and hyperthyroidism in kids is rare compared to hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism in Kids
While the condition is more common in adults, hypothyroidism can develop at any age and affect children as well. Hypothyroidism can have several causes, including congenital thyroid dysfunction (occurring at birth) and Hashimoto’s disease. If left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause stunted growth and development, as well as anemia and heart failure.
- Slow growth rate
- Delayed puberty
- Swelling of the hands and feet
- Puffy face
- Floppy muscle tone
- Feeling cold
- Slow pulse
- Dry, itchy scalp and skin
- Hair loss
- Mood swings
- Weight gain
- Heavy periods
- Enlarged thyroid gland
Additional symptoms in newborns may include:
- A larger than normal fontanel (soft spot) on the head
- Low body temperature
- Poor feeding
Hypothyroidism is more common in older children than in young children and occurs more frequently in girls than boys. Children with other autoimmune disorders (such as type 1 diabetes) or congenital syndromes (such as Down syndrome) are at higher risk for developing hypothyroidism, as well as children who are undergoing cancer treatments.
Hyperthyroidism in Kids
Untreated hyperthyroidism can cause cognitive delays as well as stunted growth and can even be fatal in newborns if not identified shortly after birth. Causes of pediatric hyperthyroidism can include Graves’ disease, thyroid nodules, and thyroiditis.
- Weight loss
- Increased heart rate
- Irregular heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Enlarged thyroid gland
- Poor heat tolerance and sweating
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor concentration
- Light or irregular periods
- Increased appetite
- Vision problems (in Graves’ disease)
In addition, an episode known as a “thyroid storm” can occur with hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of a thyroid storm include a high fever, fast heart rate, signs of dehydration, confusion or agitation, and diarrhea. A thyroid storm requires emergency treatment, so seek medical help right away if you suspect one.
Hyperthyroidism is more common in older children than in young children and occurs more frequently in girls than boys. A family history of thyroid disorders or autoimmune diseases can also increase your child’s chances of developing thyroid dysfunction.
Diagnosis of Thyroid Disorders
Childhood thyroid disorders are confirmed through a variety of steps. First, your child’s doctor will consult their medical history, conduct a thorough review of their symptoms, and perform a full physical exam. Next, they will confirm their suspected diagnosis through blood tests to check your child’s thyroid hormone (T3 and T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Blood tests can also check for antibodies that can cause Graves’ disease. Lastly, thyroid imaging, such as an ultrasound or radioiodine scan, can check for the proper functioning of the thyroid gland.
Treatment of Thyroid Disorders
The primary treatment of thyroid disorders is through medication. If your child has hyperthyroidism, they will be given an anti-thyroid medicine such as methimazole to decrease thyroid hormone levels. In the case of hypothyroidism, your child will be given a medication such as Synthroid to provide their body with synthetic thyroid hormones.
Radioactive iodine treatment is an option in some cases to lessen the production of thyroid hormones and alleviate the symptoms of children with hyperthyroidism. Surgery may also be required in some instances for a more permanent solution.
Children with pediatric thyroid disorders will most likely require frequent routine office visits (typically every 3 months) for long-term monitoring.
If your child needs evaluation or treatment for symptoms suggestive of thyroid disease, please give us a call today to speak with one of our friendly board-certified pediatricians in Arvada, CO.