Definition

What is hypothyroidism in children?

Severe hypothyroidism in infancy results in slow growth, significant intellectual disability, and developmental delays. Symptoms are seldom apparent at birth. The age at which they appear and their severity depends on how well the infant’s thyroid gland works.

How common is hypothyroidism in children?

Hypothyroidism is extremely common. It can affect anyone at any age, including children and newborns. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of hypothyroidism in children?

Newborns

Hypothyroidism occurs at any age, but the symptoms vary in children. In newborns, symptoms occur in the first few weeks or months after birth. The symptoms are subtle and can be missed by parents and doctors. Symptoms 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 beginning in early childhood vary depending on the child’s age. Thyroid conditions in young children may appear as:

  • 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
  • Hair may be brittle
  • Facial features may be puffy

These are the most frequent adult thyroid symptoms to appear in children:

  • Tiredness
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin

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
  • Being shorter in height
  • Looking younger than age
  • Slowed breast development
  • Later start to period
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual bleeding
  • Increased testicular size in boys
  • Delayed puberty
  • Dry skin
  • Brittle hair and nails
  • Constipation
  • Puffiness in face, hoarse voice, larger thyroid gland
  • Muscle and joint pain and stiffness

Teenagers with hypothyroidism may also have 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 listed above or you have any questions, please 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
  • Abnormal pituitary gland

Risk factors

What increases my risk for hypothyroidism in children?

There are many risk factors for hypothyroidism in children, the 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. 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. If left untreated, low thyroid hormones can lead to problems with the nervous system or developmental delays. However, doctors regularly screen babies within the first four weeks of life, so these problems don’t usually occur.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage hypothyroidism in children?

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

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

 

Sources

Review Date: November 1, 2017 | Last Modified: November 1, 2017

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