Underactive thyroid in children is not so common as it is in adults. This article carries some relevant information about this rare health disorder in children. Read on…
Thyroid is one of the most vital glands as it produces a number of important hormones. The exact location of thyroid gland is the frontal part of the neck in between the voice box and collarbone. Thyroid hormones are involved with several metabolic processes that are essential for proper functioning of the body. When a child has an underactive thyroid, that means the gland is not producing the required amount of hormones. Medically, this condition is known as hypothyroidism. This is rarely found in children and out of every 1000 children, one may have this problem.
Some babies are born with an underactive thyroid. This is known as congenital hypothyroidism. It occurs mainly because their thyroid glands have not developed properly. Any abnormality of pituitary gland can also be responsible for congenital hypothyroidism. There are some babies who are born without the thyroid gland in their body. So far, no definite reasons have been found why some infants are born with an underactive thyroid gland. However, some research studies have found that it could be genetic.
A few newborn babies get a transient hypothyroidism which is temporary. This happens if their mother developed underactive thyroid during pregnancy and had taken thyroid medicines. Older children and teens may develop underactive thyroid because of an autoimmune disease. In this condition, the immune system starts producing antibodies that attack the tissues of the thyroid gland.
As a result, the gland fails to produce enough hormones which are needed to carry out the vital functions of the body. Scientists have different opinions about the reason behind immune system behaving abnormally and producing this kind of antibodies. Some of them say it is triggered by pathogens like virus and bacteria and others think that it is a genetic defect.
When a baby is born with congenital underactive thyroid, he or she appears absolutely normal and no symptoms are observed that can indicate that there is any deficiency of thyroid hormones. However, after few days, one or more of the following symptoms are found in the newborn baby:
- Lack of interest in feeding
- Frequent choking
- Slow pulse rate
- Their body temperature is so low that their skin is cold to touch.
- Constant sleepiness
When the baby is few weeks old and hypothyroidism is not treated, then more visible signs of an underactive thyroid are observed. They are:
- Puffy face
- Enlarged and swollen tongue
- Cold hands and feet
- Dry skin and hair
- Hoarse crying
- Poor muscle tone
- Herniated belly button
The symptoms of underactive thyroid that are observed in older children are as follows:
- Fatigue and weakness
- Lack of appetite
- Pale skin
- Weight gain
- Dryness of skin and hair
- Enlargement of thyroid gland or goiter
- Extreme sensitivity towards cold
- Short stature due to poor growth
An underactive thyroid is diagnosed with the help of a blood test. This test is compulsory for babies at the time of birth to check congenital hypothyroidism. If parents suspect from the symptoms, that their child may have an underactive thyroid, they should take the child to a pediatrician. Doctors will conduct the same laboratory test of blood samples to diagnose it. Treatment for hypothyroidism in infants and children is the same as that of the adults.
They are prescribed with hormone replacement thyroid medicines. This supplement helps to increase the level of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream. Once the normal level of thyroid hormones is restored, the symptoms will disappear on its own. However, the medicine has to be continued for the rest of his/her life. If the treatment is continued properly and the prescribed medicines are taken on time, normal growth and development of the child can be ensured.
Underactive thyroid in babies and small children is one such health disorder that parents cannot afford to ignore. It requires immediate treatment. Any delay in the treatment can lead to irreversible developmental defects and serious mental retardation. Ignoring the problem would lead to delay in puberty and development of permanent teeth and will also affect the physical as well as mental growth in older children.