The thyroid gland regulates how much thyroid hormone is sent out to the body. Almost every cell in the body needs thyroid hormones to function properly – too much can speed up the systems in the body, and too little can slow the body down.
This can affect children in many different ways, including their behavior, explains Ryan Stewart, M.D., Pediatric Endocrinologist at Children's Health℠ and Assistant Professor at UT Southwestern. "A thyroid disorder in a child can impact their growth, puberty, concentration and even how they act," he says.
Dr. Stewart shares how thyroid disorders can affect behavior in children and symptoms parents should watch for.
Hypothyroidism and behavioral problems
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn't send out enough thyroid hormone to the body. Teens are more likely to experience behavioral problems from hypothyroidism, but these signs may be less noticeable and include:
- Trouble concentrating
Fatigue and sluggishness can sometimes keep kids from participating in their favorite activities. Occasionally, this can lead to a more depressed mood. It's important to talk to your child's doctor whenever you notice sudden changes in mood, as these can be caused by a number of conditions.
Hyperthyroidism and behavioral problems
When a child or adolescent is diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland is sending out too much thyroid hormone. This, in turn, can cause the body systems to speed up.
"Behavioral issues tend to be more common in kids with hyperthyroidism," says Dr. Stewart. "We'll see kids who are giggling and can't sit still in our clinic. Parents sometimes mistake it for attention issues. Fortunately, once we treat the thyroid, many of the behaviors go away – if there isn't another underlying cause."
Other behavioral issues common in hyperthyroidism include:
- Emotional outbursts
- Irritability or mood swings
- Shaking (such as tremors in the hands)
- Trouble concentrating
Treating thyroid issues in kids
Endocrinologists work closely with children diagnosed with a thyroid problem. The first step in treating hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism is with medication to regulate thyroid hormone levels in the body.
If medication doesn't help manage a child's condition, surgery or radioactive iodine therapy may be recommended. Your child's doctor will discuss each treatment option with you and help you identify the best approach for your child and family.
The Pediatric Endocrinology Department at Children's Health offers personalized, patient-focused care to help children and their families manage a wide range of endocrine conditions, including thyroid issues. Learn more about our Endocrinology programs and the support we offer children and families.