Thyroid disease is usually thought to be an "adult" disease, but the truth is that children can suffer from hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Approximately 5 percent of all cases of thyroid disease occur in children under the age of 15. If a child has warnings signs of thyroid problems, a doctor will do blood tests in order to find a diagnosis. With treatment, a person with thyroid disease can live a very healthy life, so it is very important for parents to be aware of the warning signs so that a child can be treated.
One of the first signs of a thyroid issue in children is a change in sleep pattern. Children may be tired all of the time, sleep longer than normal or have a lot of trouble falling asleep at night. Children who do not nap anymore may begin asking for a nap again. While these changes can indicate a thyroid issue, sleep-pattern changes can also indicate many other diseases and disorders. If a child's sleep habits change suddenly, it is best to see a doctor for a full workup of blood tests.
Another major sign of thyroid disorders is weight changes. Children may begin to gain weight rapidly. In adults, unexplained weight changes are often linked to the thyroid. In children, however, there is more to consider. First, sometimes children do put on substantial weight just before a growth spurt. Second, the parent should take a good, hard look at the child's diet and be honest about whether or not the child's diet is as healthy as it can possibly be. If there are no other explanations for significant weight changes, then it is time to talk to a doctor about possible thyroid disorders.
If a child has a thyroid problem, not only will he gain weight, but he will not grow taller, or growth will be stunted considerably. A child who suddenly falls off his growth curve is more likely to have a thyroid problem than one who suddenly gains some weight. A child who has always been short, even though her parents are average or tall, can possibly have a thyroid problem and should be tested.
Hypothyroidism in Children
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is a disorder in which there is too little thyroid hormone, which creates a slow metabolism. Other than sleep, weight and height concerns, a child with hypothyroidism may display some or all of the other indicators of hypothyroidism. The child's appetite may diminish while she also suffers from constipation. Her voice may become hoarse and her speech slow. She may lose hair and the hair that remains may change texture. If the child is near the age for puberty, it may not begin on time. If a child is displaying several of these symptoms, blood work should be done to find out if hypothyroidism is the cause.
Hyperthyroidism in Children
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is the opposite of hypothyroidism. The thyroid becomes overactive, working too hard. A child with hyperthyroidism may become overly energetic, leading to clumsiness. She may have difficulty paying attention in school suddenly or be anxious all of the time. She may complain of her heart racing or feeling like she cannot catch her breath. A child who is complaining of these symptoms should be checked out immediately to rule out any more serious disorders as well as to confirm a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism.