According to the American Thyroid Association, January is National Thyroid Awareness Month. Since hypothyroidism is the most common thyroid gland medical condition in children and impacts one out of every 1,250 kids in the United States, that makes it a perfect time to raise awareness about hypothyroidism and inform parents what they should be on the lookout for.
What Is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is the medical term for an underactive thyroid gland. The thyroid gland, a small, butterfly-shaped organ located in the neck, is responsible for producing hormones that contribute to many important functions in the body, including metabolism, bone development, overall growth and more, says the Pediatric Endocrine Society. When the body doesn’t produce enough of these hormones, it can lead to a few complications for the child.
Hypothyroidism may be present at birth or acquired at any time during childhood or adulthood. It may arise from the gland itself not functioning properly, or it may become damaged by an autoimmune attack, surgery or radiation. Hypothyroidism sometimes occurs along with other medical conditions, as well, such as Down syndrome or Turner syndrome.
Once a person develops hypothyroidism, it typically cannot be cured and will require lifelong treatment. That’s why recognizing the signs and getting treatment for your child as soon as possible are so important.
Recognizing the Signs and Symptoms
If you suspect that your child may have hypothyroidism, there are several symptoms that may indicate its presence. These include:
- Weight gain
- Poor growth
- Always feeling cold
- Hair loss
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid gland)
If any of these symptoms or a combination of these symptoms is present, schedule an appointment with your child’s pediatrician. Hypothyroidism can typically be diagnosed with a simple blood test, although ultrasound is also sometimes used to determine the function of the thyroid gland.
Though it cannot be cured, the good news about hypothyroidism is that it can be treated with a once-daily pill of a medication known as levothyroxine. This is a synthetic form of one of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland, T4.
As a parent, you can also monitor your child’s progress and symptoms to ensure that the treatment is successful. If your child ever has trouble falling asleep, restless sleep or difficulty concentrating in school, these can be signs that their levels of thyroid hormone are too high. It’s worth a follow-up visit with your pediatrician to determine if a different dose of medication is needed.
Children with hypothyroidism typically go on to lead healthy, normal lives. The key is taking their medication regularly and working closely with a pediatric endocrinologist to ensure that they are getting the care they need.