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Pediatric Hyperthyroidism

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Summary

Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the body produces too much thyroid hormone, which greatly increases the body’s metabolism. Hyperthyroidism is more common in girls than in boys; it occurs more often in children and adolescents than in newborns.

Prolonged exposure to high levels of thyroid hormone can pose serious health problems to children, including the following:

  • Premature closing of the spaces where the bones that make up the skull have not come together yet (fontanelles) in newborns
  • Developmental delay (in infants under the age of 3)
  • Heart failure
  • Thyroid storm: a sudden onslaught of symptoms that may include rapid and irregular heart rate, high fever, dehydration and shock. This is a life-threatening condition.

Causes

The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in children is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid, which causes it to produce excess thyroid hormone.

Symptoms

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism will vary from child to child, but may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Low birth weight
  • Small or abnormally shaped head (in newborns)
  • Poor weight gain despite adequate caloric intake
  • Goiter: enlarged thyroid
  • Increased number of bowel movements
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • High blood pressure
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Bulging eyes

Diagnosis

There are several methods that are used for diagnosing hyperthyroidism. Your child’s doctor may use a combination of these methods:

  • History and physical exam
  • Blood tests to check thyroid hormone levels
  • Radioactive iodine uptake test (a noninvasive test to determine how much radioactive iodine is absorbed by the thyroid gland over a period of time)
  • Ultrasound (a noninvasive test that uses sound waves to take pictures of the thyroid)

Treatment

Treatment for hyperthyroidism may include:

  • Anti-thyroid medication to slow the production of thyroid hormones
  • Surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid gland
  • Radioactive iodine: a liquid that is absorbed into the thyroid and reduces the gland’s size and activity

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