Many adults are familiar with thyroid disease, either through personal experience or that of a close friend or relative. When I obtain medical histories on my pediatric patients, there is almost always someone in the family with history of a thyroid problem. What most people don’t know is that children may suffer from thyroid problems as well.
The thyroid is a small gland found in the neck, in front of cartilage that surrounds the airway. This gland is small but powerful, producing hormones responsible for things like regulating metabolism, temperature and heart rate. In children thyroid hormones are essential for proper brain development and growth.
By far the most common type of thyroid problem, even in children, is hypothyroidism. This is an underproduction or under-activity of thyroid hormones in the body. Symptoms of hypothyroidism in children are largely similar to symptoms in adults:
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Often feeling colder than others in the same environment
Children with hypothyroidism may have these additional symptoms:
- Slowed growth or short stature (dropping off the growth chart curve)
- Delayed onset of puberty
- Irregular menstrual periods in girls
- Intellectual concerns (difficulty in school, trouble learning or processing knowledge)
Kids can also experience hyperthyroidism, which is an overproduction or over-activity of the hormones. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism to watch for are:
- Weight loss without eating less
- More frequent bowel movements
- Sweating and feeling hotter than others in the same environment
- Tremor (a fine shaking of the hands)
- Anxiety or nervousness
- Problems with attention and focus
- Trouble sleeping
- Fast, irregular, or pounding heartbeat
- Dry, brittle hair
- Protruding eyes
Hyperthyroidism is often a medical emergency, so if you suspect your child is suffering from hyperthyroidism, seek medical attention right away.
The most common reason for thyroid problems (either hypo or hyper) is autoimmune thyroiditis, though there can be other reasons as well. If you have concerns that your child might have symptoms of a thyroid problem, an Integrative or Functional practitioner can take a thorough history, do a complete physical examination, and then check a complete set of thyroid studies in order to get to the root cause of the problem.