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All You Need to Know About Hypothyroidism in Children

All You Need to Know About Hypothyroidism in Children
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thryoid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones into the bloodstream, causing metabolism to slow down. Hypothyroidism in children results in devastating effects on the health if it is left untreated. These include slow growth, significant intellectual disability, and developmental delays.

How Common Is Hypothyroidism in Children?

Hypothyroidism is extremely common. It can affect anyone at any age, including children and newborns.

Symptoms

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Children?

Newborns

Hypothyroidism occurs at any age, but the symptoms vary in children. Symptoms are seldom apparent at birth. The age at which symptoms appear and their severity depends on how well the infant’s thyroid gland works. Some symptoms may occur in the first few weeks or months after birth. The symptoms are subtle and can often be missed by parents and doctors. These include:

  • Yellowing of the skin and whites of the eyes
  • Constipation
  • Poor feeding
  • Cold skin
  • Decreased crying
  • Loud breathing
  • Sleeping more often/decreased activity
  • Larger soft spot on the head
  • A large tongue

Toddlers and gradeschoolers

The problems associated with hypothyroidism in children vary depending on the child’s age. Some thyroid conditions that appear in young children are:

  • Shorter than average height
  • Shorter than average limbs
  • Permanent teeth that develop later
  • Puberty that starts later
  • Slowed mental development
  • Heart rate that is slower than average
  • Brittle hair
  • Puffy facial features

Teens

Hypothyroidism in teenagers occurs more often in girls than boys, and it’s most commonly due to the autoimmune disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Teenagers with a family history of autoimmune diseases, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, or type 1 diabetes are at a higher risk for developing thyroid disease. Children with genetic disorders such as Down syndrome also have an increased risk for thyroid disease.

Symptoms in teens resemble those in adults. But, the symptoms can be vague and hard to recognize. Teenagers with hypothyroidism often experience the following physical symptoms:

  • Weight gain
  • Slowed growth
  • Less than average height
  • Slowed breast development
  • Delyaed start of menstruation
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding
  • Increased testicular size in boys
  • Delayed puberty
  • Dry skin
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Constipation
  • Hoarse voice
  • Enlarged thyroid gland
  • Muscle and joint pain and stiffness

Teenagers with hypothyroidism may also experience changes in behavior that are less obvious. Those symptoms include:

  • Tiredness
  • Forgetfulness
  • Mood or behavior problems
  • Difficulties with school performance
  • Depressed mood
  • Trouble concentrating

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When Should I See My Doctor?

If your child has any signs or symptoms of hypothyroidism, consult with your doctor. Everyone’s body acts differently. It is always best to discuss with your doctor what is best for your situation.

Causes

What Causes Hypothyroidism in Children?

The most common cause of hypothyroidism in children is a family history of the disease.

Other common causes of hypothyroidism in children include:

  • Not enough iodine in a child’s diet
  • Being born with a nonfunctional thyroid or without a thyroid gland (also called congenital hypothyroidism)
  • Improper treatment of a mother’s thyroid disease during pregnancy
  • An abnormal pituitary gland

Risk Factors

What Increases the Risk of Hypothyroidism in Children?

There are many risk factors for hypothyroidism in children. Some of the more common cases include:

  • Children whose parents, grandparents, or siblings have hypothyroidism are at a higher risk for thyroid disease. This is also true if there’s a family history of immune problems that impact the thyroid.
  • Autoimmune conditions, such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, more commonly appear during puberty. These thyroid conditions more frequently affect girls than boys.

Diagnosis & Treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How Is Hypothyroidism in Children Diagnosed?

Your doctor will decide on the best way to diagnose your child depending on their age and other factors. Generally, a physical exam and specific diagnostic testing can confirm the diagnosis. The diagnostic testing might involve blood tests that measure certain hormones like thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) or thyroxine (T4), or imaging tests. About 1 out of every 4,000 babies is diagnosed with congenital hypothyroidism.

An enlarged thyroid, known as goiter, can cause problems with breathing and swallowing. Your child’s doctor will check for this problem by feeling their neck.

How Is Hypothyroidism in Children Treated?

There are different treatment options for hypothyroidism in children. Treatment typically involves daily thyroid hormone therapy with a medication called levothyroxine (Synthroid). The dose will be determined by your doctor and dependent on various factors like the age of your child.

Treatment for a newborn with thyroid disease is more successful when started within the child’s first month of life. Doctors also regularly screen babies within the first four weeks of life, so these health problems don’t occur.

Key Takeaway

If left untreated, hypothyroidism in children can lead to stunted growth, problems with the nervous system or developmental delays. Being aware of symptoms can help parents to seek medical help and provide treatment for their child.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.
Learn more about Child Health here.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Written by Kristel Dacumos-Lagorza Updated 2 weeks ago
Fact Checked by Cesar Beltran
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