Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, and their Prevalence in Kids

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease, and their Prevalence in Kids

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According to The American Thyroid Association (ATA), an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. Women are more likely than men to have thyroid problems.

Healthy thyroid function is critical for infants and children, whose developing brains and bodies rely on adequate levels of thyroid hormone. There are two types of hypothyroidism in infants and children: congenital hypothyroidism, which is present at birth, and acquired hypothyroidism, which develops after birth - usually during late childhood or adolescence.

A baby can have thyroid disease from birth if he or she is born without a thyroid gland or if the thyroid didn't develop completely before birth. Sometimes a baby's thyroid is fully developed at birth but just can't make enough thyroid hormone. It is not always known why thyroid disease develops, but if left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to intellectual disability and growth failure. A child with thyroid disease might have inherited the condition, because the tendency to get thyroid disease can run in the family. 

What is the Thyroid? 

The thyroid, which is part of the endocrine system, is a bowtie or butterfly shaped gland that produces special chemicals called hormones, and is located below your Adam’s apple. The major hormones that the thyroid makes and releases into the bloodstream are called T4 or thyroxine and T3 or triiodothyronine.

The thyroid gland acts as the control center for your body. Hormones secreted by the thyroid help maintain the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs, and help the body to use energy properly. When something goes wrong that leads to an underactive thyroid or overactive thyroid, your metabolism either revs up too high or slows way down.

Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism:

These two conditions called hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism affect the thyroid in different ways and therefore have distinct symptoms. In simple terms, with hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormone for the body’s needs. With hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone for the body’s needs.

The thyroid works like the thermostat in your house controlling the temperature. The thyroid is the heater, and the pituitary gland in the brain acts as a thermostat. When the heater doesn't produce enough heat, the thyroid gland doesn't work properly. If the thyroid gland is too active and produces too much of the T4 and T3 hormones, it's like having a thermostat that's set too high, so the house becomes overheated. If the thyroid is not active enough, the thermostat is set too low, causing the house to become too cold. 

So, what are Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease?

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common thyroid disorder and cause of hypothyroidism) in the United States, while Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Both are autoimmune disorders, meaning that they are caused by the immune system producing antibodies that get confused and attack, or stimulate, the body’s own tissues. In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, the thyroid cells are destroyed, stopping the thyroid’s ability to produce the necessary thyroid hormones. It is important to note, that once someone has one autoimmune disorder, they are at higher risk of developing a second autoimmune disorder.

Hashimoto's thyroiditis, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis or autoimmune thyroiditis, affects an estimated 14 million people in the United States alone. Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Fatigue and sluggishness
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Constipation
  • Pale, puffy, dry skin
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair loss
  • Enlargement of the tongue
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
  • Joint pain and stiffness
  • Muscle weakness
  • Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding (menorrhagia)
  • Depression
  • Memory lapses

        Graves’ disease affects an estimated 10 million people and is more common in women than men. Antibodies bind to the surface of thyroid cells and stimulate those cells to overproduce thyroid hormones. This results in an overactive thyroid, or hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of this condition include:

  • Anxiety and irritability
  •  A fine tremor of your hands or fingers
  • Heat sensitivity and an increase in perspiration or warm, moist skin
  • Weight loss, despite normal eating habits
  • Enlargement of your thyroid gland (goiter)
  • Change in menstrual cycles
  • Erectile dysfunction or reduced libido
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Bulging eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy)
  • Thick, red skin usually on the shins or tops of the feet (Graves' dermopathy)
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat (palpitations)

If your child is experiencing symptoms of either an under active thyroid or overactive thyroid, see your endocrinologist immediately. They can order the necessary tests to see if the thyroid hormone levels are in the normal range, provide treatment otherwise. Hyperthyroidism due to Graves’ disease and hypothyroidism due to Hashimoto's thyroiditis is often easily controlled and safely treated, once properly diagnosed.

If you have any questions regarding Hashimoto's thyroiditis or Graves’ Disease or think your child may be suffering from thyroid issues, call Endocrine Kids at (248) 347-3344 to request an appointment with Dr. Bishop.