Hypothyroidism in Children

When the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, it can cause hypothyroidism. If your child is exhibiting symptoms of hypothyroidism, 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. A part of the brain, called the pituitary gland, sends a signal to the thyroid to make hormones. Then, the thyroid hormone is released into the body’s bloodstream to help control things like body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure, stooling patterns, weight, energy level and menstrual cycle.

Hypothyroidism occurs when the level of thyroid hormone in the bloodstream is too low.

Hypothyroidism present at birth can be due to:

  • Defects in the pituitary gland that prevents the brain from sending the necessary signals to the thyroid gland.
  • An absent or improperly formed thyroid gland.
  • A genetic problem that prevents the thyroid gland from producing thyroid hormone.
  • A baby’s exposure in the womb to thyroid hormone-reducing medication taken by the mother or to thyroid-blocking proteins present in the mother’s blood.

Hypothyroidism present after birth can be due to:

  • Damage to the pituitary gland from tumors, brain bleeds, radiation therapy, surgery, infection or stroke that prevents the gland from sending the necessary signals to the thyroid.
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland and sometimes causes it to be underactive.
  • Inflammation of the thyroid gland.
  • Damage of the thyroid gland from surgery, exposure to radiation or certain chemotherapy agents.
  • Iodine deficiency or iodine excess.
  • Exposure to certain medications such as lithium and amiodarone.

The thyroid gland releases hormones into the bloodstream to help control the body’s heart rate, temperature and metabolism. Low hormone levels can decrease metabolism, and can cause depression, weight gain and low heart rate. It can also cause abnormal puberty patterns in your child.

Some other common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Poor growth in height
  • Fatigue
  • Feeling cold
  • Dry skin
  • Constipation
  • Hair thinning
  • Puffy face
  • Developmental delays
  • Irregular periods

How is hypothyroidism diagnosed in children?

Hypothyroidism, like hyperthyroidism, is diagnosed by a physical exam and blood work to measure thyroid hormone levels and possible markers of autoimmunity. Some causes of hypothyroidism are associated with swelling of the neck from thyroid enlargement—also called a goiter. Imaging of the thyroid gland may also be completed to help determine the cause of the hypothyroidism.

Sobenna George, MD, an endocrinologist at Children's, explains that there is no cure for most causes of hypothyroidism.

“Hypothyroidism is commonly treated with thyroid hormone replace therapy,” says Dr. George. “The medication is given daily and can be taken by mouth.”

If you suspect your child is experiencing hypothyroidism, 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.