What is Hyperthyroidism in Children?

When a child’s thyroid produces too much hormone, it can cause hyperthyroidism. If your child is exhibiting symptoms of hyperthyroidism, it’s important to follow up with one of our trained thyroid specialists at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta.

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces thyroid hormone, which helps control body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, stooling patterns, weight, energy level and menstrual cycle. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the level of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream is too high.

Child being examined by physician

Causes of hyperthyroidism can include:

  • Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland and causes it to be overactive. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in children.
  • Taking too much thyroid hormone medication, such as levothyroxine.
  • Inflammation that damages the thyroid gland and causes stored thyroid hormone to be released into the bloodstream.
  • A nodule or bump on the thyroid gland that is independently secreting high levels of thyroid hormone.

The thyroid gland’s main function is to release thyroid hormone into the blood to control the body’s heart rate, temperature and metabolism. Too much thyroid hormone increases metabolism and can cause anxiety, weight loss and a rapid heartbeat. It can also affect your child’s mood and ability to focus or concentrate.

Some common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • High heart rate
  • High blood pressure
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Sweating or feeling hot
  • Shakiness or tremors
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Fine hair
  • Irregular periods
  • Anxiety
  • Bulging of the eyes (specific to Grave’s disease)
  • Neck swelling from enlargement of the thyroid gland (can be seen in Grave’s disease)

How is hyperthyroidism diagnosed in children?

Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed by a physical exam and blood work to measure thyroid hormone levels and possible markers of autoimmunity. Imaging of the thyroid gland may also be completed to help determine the cause of the hyperthyroidism.

According to Sobenna George, MD, an endocrinologist at Children’s, treatment of hyperthyroidism is dependent on its underlying cause. “For example, a thyroid nodule that is releasing too much thyroid hormone will have to be surgically removed,” she explains.

Graves' disease—the most common cause of pediatric hyperthyroidism—can be treated by radioactive iodine, surgical removal of the thyroid gland, and/or by swallowing a pill that decreases the amount of thyroid hormone that is produced by the thyroid gland.

If you suspect your child is experiencing hyperthyroidism, a Children’s endocrinologist will help diagnose and find the right course of treatment for your child’s specific needs.

Sobenna George, MD, is a practicing pediatric endocrinologist in the Atlanta area. She sees children and adolescents with diabetes and endocrine issues (thyroid dysfunction, bone metabolism disorders, pituitary dysfunction secondary to congenital malformations and brain tumors, ambiguous genitalia, and adrenal disorders). Her interests include international health, health education, quality improvement, telemedicine and endocrine late effects in pediatric cancer survivors and children who received treatment for sickle cell disease.

This content is general information and is not specific medical advice. Always consult with a doctor or healthcare provider if you have any questions or concerns about the health of a child. In case of an urgent concern or emergency, call 911 or go to the nearest emergency department right away. Some physicians and affiliated healthcare professionals on the Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta team are independent providers and are not our employees.