The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck, just above the collar bone. This gland secretes hormones that regulate growth, development, and metabolism; it also ensures that the heart and other organs are working correctly.
While the thyroid gland can malfunction at any age, problems with it during the teenage years could have adverse effects on the development of the mind and body. Hence, it is essential to identify thyroid issues early on and treat them on time to prevent any complications.
In this post, MomJunction tells you about the causes, symptoms, and management of thyroid problems in teens.
Types Of Thyroid Disorders In Teenagers
- Hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid gland that fails to produce the hormones adequately) is the most commonly occurring thyroid disorder in children and teens. Hypothyroidism in children could be by birth or acquired; it can also be primary, which is due to malfunctioning in the gland itself or secondary where the thyroid issues could be due to pituitary or hypothalamic disease (1).
- Hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid gland that produces more amounts of the hormones) is not that common unless in the case of graves’ disease (1).
Based on the cause, this disorder could be transient or permanent. So, what could cause thyroid disorders in teenagers?
[ Read: Hypothyroidism In Children ]
Possible Causes For Thyroid Problems In Teenagers
Thyroid problems in teens could be due to various reasons, some of which are discussed next.
Children who are born prematurely, with a low-birth-weight or with down syndrome, could be at a higher risk of having congenital thyroid disorders (2). Sometimes, maternal autoimmune diseases might also cause hypothyroidism in the baby (3). These could be the reasons for children to develop thyroid problems at birth, which might continue into puberty.
2. Autoimmune diseases
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Atrophic thyroiditis are autoimmune diseases where the body’s antibodies attack the thyroid gland and destroy it. This causes malfunctioning of the thyroid gland, resulting in hypothyroidism during puberty. (4) (5) (6).
- Graves’ disease is also an autoimmune disease that could cause hyperthyroidism in teenagers. It results from antibodies that bind to the thyroid-stimulating hormone receptors, resulting in excess production of thyroid hormones to cause hyperthyroidism (7).
Children who have a family history of autoimmune diseases might be at a higher risk of developing it. Also, it is found to be more predominant in girls than in boys.
- Dietary: When your child’s iodine requirements are not met, then the thyroid gland may not function properly, causing hypothyroidism (8).
- Secondary hypothyroidism: This is caused due to malfunctioning of the pituitary gland, which is responsible for the regulation of the thyroid gland’s function (9).
Signs and Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems In Teenage Boys And Girls
Most symptoms of thyroid problems in teenagers occur gradually and are often hard to diagnose. The absence of goiter (thyroid enlargemnt) in case of hypothyroidism makes it even more difficult to detect it. Look out for the following symptoms (if they are not already diagnosed with congenital thyroiditis) that the child may experience during puberty, to determine if they have a thyroid issue:
- Slow growth, especially stunted height
- Delayed puberty
- Brittle and dry hair
- Sensitivity towards cold
- Hoarse voice
- Dry skin
- Weight gain
- Slow speech
- Irregular and or heavy menstrual periods
- Droopy eyelids
- Slow pulse rate
- Hair loss, fallen hair found on the hairbrush, pillow, and bathroom (10)
- Enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter)
- Rapid heart rate
- Excessive sweating
- Weight loss
- Tingling sensation in the fingers
- Bulging eyes
- Menstrual irregularities
- Increased urination and bowel movements
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- Poor performance at school (11)
When To See A Doctor?
Symptoms of thyroid issues in children are often subtle and might go unnoticed, which is why it is necessary to monitor your child’s physical development and overall wellbeing as they enter teenage years and attain puberty.
Stunted growth, especially the height, and delay in attaining puberty or the appearance of its signs, are the two most important signs of thyroid problems in teenagers. Additionally, if you find other symptoms listed above, then it is best to see a doctor.
[ Read: Teenage Weight Gain ]
Diagnosis Of Thyroid Problems
Your child’s doctor would do a physical examination of the neck and question your child’s medical history. Blood tests may be done to estimate the levels of
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH)
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
- Thyroxine (T4)
Sometimes, a US scan or an X-ray of the neck could also be done to understand the cause.
Early diagnosis is essential to start treatment and avoid any complications.
Complications Of Thyroid Disorders In Children
If left untreated, thyroid malfunctioning can lead to:
- Problems in growth and development during puberty
- Fertility issues later in life
- A high risk of developing heart diseases
Studies stated that Hashimoto’s thyroiditis in children might be associated with the development of thyroid cancers (12).
[ Read: Short-Term Memory Loss In Teenagers ]
Treatment For Thyroid Disorders In Children
Early identification and treatment of thyroid disorders might help regulate the growth and development of the child (13).
The primary goal of the treatment is to correct the levels of thyroid hormones and restore growth and development in the child. However, the course of treatment for thyroid disorders depends on the underlying cause.
- If your child’s thyroid issues are due to reduced function, then your doctor might prescribe hormone replacement therapy, where daily pills of synthetic thyroid hormones are given. The child may have to take this medication every day for the rest of life (14).
- If your child’s thyroid problems are due to iodine deficiency, then a daily intake of iodized salt might help in restoring the levels of thyroid hormones (15).
- Rarely, but in extreme cases, radioactive iodine or surgery may be considered to remove the gland in case of hyperfunction.
- In some cases, it may be indicated to remove part or whole of the thyroid gland by surgery.
Early detection is crucial in the case of thyroid disorders in children, as on-time treatment could help your child to reach healthy developmental goals. So, be observant of any signs or symptoms that indicate the child has a thyroid problem and work with your doctor to provide the best possible care for your child.
Do you have any experiences to share? Let us know in the comments section below.
2. Maria Segni; Disorders of the Thyroid Gland in Infancy, Childhood and Adolescence; NCBI
3. Maria Cristina Vigone,Donatella Capalbo,Giovanna Weber, and Maria Carolina Salerno; Mild Hypothyroidism in Childhood: Who, When, and How Should Be Treated?; Journal of the Endocrine Society
4. Hypothyroidism; Clinical Thyroidology For The Public; American Thyroid Association
5. Olga Hardy, et al.; Hypothyroidism in Down Syndrome: Screening Guidelines and Testing Methodology; NCBI
6. Luis J.Jara, Olga Vera-Lastra, and, Gabriela Medina; Atrophic Thyroiditis; Springerlink
7. Dr Christian M. Girgis, Bernard L. Champion, and Jack R. Wall; Current Concepts in Graves’ Disease; NCBI
8. Umesh Kapil; Health Consequences of Iodine Deficiency; Sultan Qaboos University Medical Journal
9. Hypothyroidism Secondary; UCLA Health
10. I Kostoglou-Athanassiou, and K Ntalles; Hypothyroidism – new aspects of an old disease; Hippokratia
11. Kanshi Minamitani, et al.; Guidelines for the treatment of childhood-onset Graves’ disease in Japan, 2016; Clinical Pediatric Endocrinology
12. Laura Penta, et al.; Hashimoto’s Disease and Thyroid Cancer in Children: Are They Associated?; Frontiers In Endocrinology
13. Hanley P, Lord K, Bauer AJ; Thyroid Disorders in Children and Adolescents: A Review; NCBI
14. James Hennessey, Leonard Wartofsky; Hashimoto’s Disease; The Journal Of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism
15. Creswell J Eastman, M.D. and Michael B Zimmermann; The Iodine Deficiency Disorders; NCBI