The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ in the body and serves as a ‘middle man’ between the brain (pituitary gland) and the body. The pituitary excretes ‘Thyroid stimulating hormone’ that tells the thyroid how much hormone to secrete. These hormones are responsible for keeping many systems regulated including body temperature, reproductive hormones, energy expenditure (metabolism), and even your heart rate.
When an individual’s thyroid hormones are not at normal levels, they are considered to have ‘thyroid disease’. There are many causes of hormone imbalances including genetics, auto-immune disorders, surgeries, Cancer, previous radiation treatments, and in some cases have unknown causes.
When an older child or adult has low thyroid hormone they are considered to have ‘hypothyroidism’. Having less than the adequate amount of hormone can wreak havoc on the body and cause many individualized symptoms including cold sensitivity, fatigue, low metabolism/weight gain, constipation, depression. The general treatment of hypothyroidism is hormone replacement. Conversely, when an older child or adult has higher than normal thyroid hormone they are considered to have ‘hyperthyroidism’. Having more than the needed amount of thyroid hormone can also cause an array of system responses including weight loss, insomnia, high energy, and even anxiety.
According to Children’s Health in Dallas, Texas, disorders of the thyroid gland are among the most common endocrine disorders affecting children occurring in 37 of 1,000 school-aged children in the United States. As parents and healthcare providers, we must be willing to explore the possibility that a child could have thyroid disease. Even younger pediatric cases of thyroid disease can be present but look quite different than in school-aged children and adults. Low thyroid function in an infant, for example, would slow the nervous system and potentially delay development. Some symptoms may present as issues with feeding/weight gain, decreased muscle tone, and possibly increased irritability.
Even though the body can do awesome things such as fight off viruses and pull nutrients out of our food, sometimes it needs some help staying regulated. If you have any questions or think you or your child may be exhibiting some symptoms of thyroid disease, please contact your primary care physician for an exam and testing.
Angie Rosler, RN, is the Children with Medical Handicaps nurse at the Meigs County Health Department.