Since January is Thyroid Awareness Month, we asked Michael Foster, MD, chief of UofL Pediatrics-Endocrinology, to share information about thyroid conditions in children.

The thyroid produces hormones that control how fast the body uses up energy. Foster said it can be likened to “a thermostat for your body.” If the production of those hormones gets out of whack, two conditions can result. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid is too active. In the second condition, hypothyroidism, the thyroid isn’t active enough, so not enough thyroid hormone is being made and released into the bloodstream. Doctors can’t say exactly why a child gets thyroid disease, but it does tend to run in families. Children can be born with a thyroid condition, or it can develop over time, Foster said.

Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid): Children with hypothyroidism may experience slowed growth, resulting in short stature. They may have delayed puberty or delayed mental development, said Foster. Outward signs can be constipation; poor muscle tone; excessive sleepiness; increased sensitivity to cold; pale, dry skin; a puffy face; and a hoarse voice.

Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid): Hyperthyroidism can significantly accelerate metabolism. Children with hyperthyroidism may seem jumpy and have trouble concentrating, according to Foster. Their hearts might beat fast and their hands may tremble. They may sweat a lot, even in cold weather, and have trouble sleeping. And even if they have an increased appetite, they lose weight or stop gaining it as they grow. Children with hyperthyroidism might also have a wide-eyed stare, as if they are frightened, and in some cases their eyes may bulge.

Foster said not to be alarmed — each of these symptoms alone may not point to a thyroid problem, but considered together, it’s wise to get your child checked by a pediatrician. Or UofL Pediatrics-Endocrinology can do blood work and other non-invasive tests to determine if your child has either condition. To schedule an appointment or make a referral to UofL Pediatrics-Endocrinology, please call 629-8821.

Editor’s Note: UofL Today reprints To Your Health from the “ULP Insider” newsletter. Read the entire January issue (opens as a PDF document).