The thyroid gland, which is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of the neck below the voice box (larynx), is essential to the process of turning food into energy — metabolism.
The thyroid uses iodine, found in iodized salt and some foods, to produce the thyroid hormone knowns as thyroxine or T4.
The thyroid gland is controlled by a variety of factors, but mainly by the pituitary gland in the brain. The pituitary gland talks to the thyroid by a chemical/hormone called thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH. Just like the name implies, the pituitary gland stimulates the thyroid to work more or less, depending upon the needs of the person.
The pituitary gland regulates the thyroid, through the secretion of TSH, to control heart rate, blood pressure, metabolic function and growth. When the production of T4 is abnormal, diseased or malfunctioning in a child, the condition is known as a pediatric thyroid disorder.
In general, when the amount T4 in the blood is elevated, it is known as hyperthyroidism. Alternatively, when T4 levels are low, it is known as hypothyroidism.
The most common thyroid disorders in children include:
The symptoms of pediatric thyroid disorders will vary but common symptoms include:
Congenital thyroid disorders exist at birth and are a result of being born with a nonfunctional thyroid. Other causes are hereditary in nature and thus related to family history. Autoimmune conditions, where the immune system of the body erroneously attacks itself, are also a contributor of thyroid disorders. Pituitary gland disorders may also be identified as the cause of thyroid conditions.
When a child is experiencing hyper- or hypothyroidism symptoms, Dr. Joshua Smith, our pediatric endocrinologist, will identify the specific thyroid disorder and develop a treatment plan. Treatment plans typically include medication to help regulate a child’s T4 and in some cases may require surgery.
Thyroid nodules are not necessarily cancerous and such nodules don’t always require treatment. However, when thyroid cancer exists, surgery, radioactive iodine therapy or targeted drug therapy may be used.
If your child is experiencing any of these symptoms, call Dr. Joshua Smith for an appointment or fill out the form below to request an appointment. Dr. Smith is the region’s only specialist in pediatric endocrinology and is specifically trained to properly diagnose and treat thyroid disorders.