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Health Information For Parents
The thyroid is a small gland below the skin and muscles at the front of the neck, at the spot where a bow tie would rest.
It’s brownish red, with left and right halves (called lobes) that look like a butterfly’s wings. It weighs less than an ounce, but helps the body do many things, such as get energy from food, grow, and go through sexual development.
Hypothyroidism (or underactive thyroid) is when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough of some important hormones. This makes the body use up energy more slowly, and chemical activity (metabolism) in the cells slows down.
Hypothyroidism is a common condition, especially in adult women.
Kids can have hypothyroidism too. When a baby is born with it, it’s called congenital hypothyroidism.
Other kids develop it later, usually late in childhood or as teens. Most of these cases are caused by the
disease Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Early signs of congenital hypothyroidism in a baby include:
Without treatment, children with congenital hypothyroidism can develop permanent mental disabilities. They also may have a poor appetite and breathing problems.
Most cases of congenital hypothyroidism happen because the thyroid doesn’t form correctly in the baby during pregnancy. At birth, the baby may have no thyroid gland at all, or have a small, partially developed gland. Why this happens is often unknown, but in some cases it is genetic.
Less commonly, a baby’s thyroid did fully develop, but can’t make normal amounts of thyroid hormone. This is usually due to a genetic problem. Other children born to the same parents have a 1 in 4 chance of having the same thyroid problem.
It’s very important to diagnose and treat hypothyroidism right away. So thyroid testing is done on all infants at birth as part of normal newborn screening.
A heel prick blood sample is tested to look for:
to stimulate the thyroid and increase its production of thyroid hormones
If the newborn screen test is abnormal, other blood test are done to be sure of the diagnosis. Sometimes doctors order imaging tests, such as an ultrasound or a thyroid scan, to get more information.
A child with hypothyroidism will take thyroid hormone to make up for what the thyroid gland can’t make. Most kids need to take the medicine for the rest of their lives.
Some infants are born with temporary hypothyroidism. This can be caused by things such as premature birth, thyroid disease in the mother, or medicines the mother had during pregnancy. This form of hypothyroidism usually goes away by itself in the first weeks or months of life.
If your child has hypothyroidism, it’s very important to give the thyroid hormone as instructed by your doctor.
If your child is too young to chew or swallow the pill, crush it and mix it with a small amount of water, non-soy baby formula, or breast milk. Make sure your child drinks all the liquid. Some thyroid hormone pills dissolve more easily in liquids than others, so talk to your doctor if you’re having trouble with this.
Some infant formulas (especially soy formulas), medicines, and mineral supplements (like calcium and iron) may block the thyroid medicine from being absorbed. Check with your doctor about how and when to give other medicines or supplements while your child takes thyroid hormone.
Your doctor will see your child regularly to make sure that the medicine is working and change the dose as your child grows. Be sure to go to all follow-up doctor visits.
Children with congenital hypothyroidism can sometimes develop hearing problems. If you have any concerns about your child’s hearing or speech development, talk to your doctor.
Newborn screening tests look for health conditions that aren’t apparent at birth. Find out which tests are done.
The thyroid gland makes the hormones that help control metabolism and growth. A thyroid that isn’t working properly can cause thyroid disease.
An underactive thyroid makes too little thyroid hormone, causing hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which causes most cases of hypothyroidism in kids and teens, is a condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid.
Thyroid blood tests check thyroid function and can help doctors diagnose thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism happens when the thyroid gland sends too much thyroid hormone into the blood. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease.
An enlarged thyroid gland is a lump that can be felt under the skin at the front of the neck. When it’s big enough to see easily, it’s called a goiter. A thyroid nodule is a lump or enlarged area in the thyroid gland.
Doctors may order TSH blood tests to diagnose and monitor treatment of a thyroid disorder or evaluate pituitary gland functioning.
Doctors may order the T4 blood test if symptoms suggest any kind of thyroid disorder.
Do you know just how important the thyroid is? It helps you grow and affects your energy level.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
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