By Heather Choat, MD, Pediatric Endocrinologist - Dothan Pediatric Clinic
The thyroid gland is a large gland in the neck that makes Thyroid Hormone (TH). This hormone is a critical hormone in the body and is involved in many processes. Prior to 3 years of age, TH is instrumental in brain development as well as growth. As a child gets older, TH maintains an integral role in growth and metabolism.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a condition in which your thyroid gland does not produce enough TH. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an auto-immune process, called Hashimoto’s disease, in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, making it unable to make enough TH.
Children can be born with hypothyroidism due to the thyroid gland not forming properly or not having the necessary machinery to produce TH. Fortunately, hypothyroidism is a treatable diagnosis. Furthermore, for some children (depending on its cause) hypothyroidism may not be lifelong.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include persistent fatigue, constipation, feeling cold often, and poor growth. If a child has a pre-existing auto-immune disease such as type 1 diabetes, Addison’s disease, or celiac disease they are at higher risk than the general population for developing a thyroid problem.
One abnormal thyroid lab does not always mean there is a true problem. It is known that in cases of rapid weight gain or recent illness, thyroid labs can be temporarily falsely abnormal.
Evaluating for a thyroid problem starts with a child’s pediatrician. If there is a concern for a possible thyroid problem, the pediatrician may order thyroid labs. If abnormal, the child will likely need to see a pediatric endocrinologist. Not all kids with abnormal thyroid labs will require thyroid medication; but for those who do, it is a relatively simple treatment that can be managed close to home. If you have questions about hypothyroidism, ask your primary doctor or a pediatric endocrinologist.