Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) in children

Like adults, young and old children can also suffer from an underactive thyroid. Symptoms are often difficult to recognize because they can be attributed to many conditions, but here are the most common signs of hypothyroidism in children.
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Although hypothyroidism is more common in adults, it can also occur in children and adolescents. It is difficult to recognize the symptoms of underactive thyroid in children because the signs that are characteristic of the disorder, such as changes in a child’s sleeping habits, appetite, and energy levels can be a normal part of growth. Underactive thyroid disorder is much more common in children than overactive thyroid or hyperthyroidism.

Babies can get hypothyroidism, too, and it’s usually found on regular screenings. If we talk about the condition the baby is born with, it is called congenital hypothyroidism. Routine screenings as soon as a baby is born have shown that one in 1,500 to 3,000 babies is born with an underactive thyroid gland.

If someone in the family has hypothyroidism or an autoimmune disorder, a newborn is also at risk. Once the disease is treated in infancy, testing is generally no longer done unless the child’s parents or pediatrician specifically request testing.

There are some autoimmune disorders that can cause an underactive thyroid such as type 1 diabetes, Hashimoto’s disease, and Graves’ disease. There are a few more reasons that children can get hypothyroidism:

  • Lack of iodine in the diet.
  • Pituitary gland disorder.
  • Lack of treatment for the mother’s underactive thyroid during pregnancy.
  • An underactive thyroid can occur in boys at any age and affects girls more often than boys.

Signs of thyroid insufficiency often appear shortly after the baby is born, but they can be easy to spot as they tend to be quite subtle at first. Thyroid hormone levels in babies are slightly lower than normal, making this symptom easy to spot. As the child grows, they become more and more apparent and often include:

Jaundice: If a child has an underactive thyroid, it reduces the rate of bilirubin conjugation and affects appetite, leading to jaundice.
Decreased appetite – Refusing to feed is one of the common signs of an underactive thyroid.
Large fontanelle: The size of a soft spot on a baby’s head is 2.1 cm on average. In babies with hypothyroidism, it is usually larger and takes longer to close. In fact, an underactive thyroid is a common reason for increased fontanelle.
Decreased activity: Babies with an underactive thyroid tend to leak more and are more lethargic than the average child.
Protruding belly button: Babies with an underactive thyroid often have a condition called umbilical hernia, where the belly button sticks out.

Underactive thyroid in children is often accompanied by macroglossia. This condition is characterized by large, thick lips, a large tongue, and a late eruption of the teeth. There are some other signs of hypothyroidism in children such as cold skin, heavy breathing, lack of crying, and constipation.

Common Symptoms of Underactive Thyroid in Older Children

If hypothyroidism is not detected until the age of three, when most of the brain development that requires good levels of thyroid hormone takes place, the signs of hypothyroidism can be difficult to detect, but they can cause many problems such as:

Compromised growth: Underactive thyroid can lead to poor growth, not only with regard to height, but also length of the limb if the condition is not diagnosed in time.
Facial swelling: Hypothyroidism can cause myxedema, a condition characterized by a swollen face, lips, and limbs. This is because mucopolysaccharides accumulate in the dermis.
A goiter: When a thyroid gland becomes enlarged, it is a definite sign of thyroid problems, but it is not specific which disease, as it can signify hyperthyroidism, as well as hypothyroidism.
Delayed tooth eruption: As with babies, hypothyroidism can cause delayed growth.

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