Hypothyroidism means that the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone regulates many natural processes of metabolism and growth.
Congenital hypothyroidism means the condition was present at or before birth. Severe physical and mental developmental delays can occur if congenital hypothyroidism is not identified and treated in a timely matter. Older children may fail to grow properly if any type of hypothyroidism is inadequately treated.
Congenital hypothyroidism occurs in about one in 2,000 to 4,000 live term births. Newborn screenings promote earlier treatment and reduce the risk for developmental delay.
Causes of hypothyroidism in infants, children, or adolescents include:
Missing or poorly developed thyroid gland
Pituitary gland that doesn’t work effectively
Hashimoto's thyroiditis, or Hashimoto's disease, in which the immune system destroys the thyroid
Side effect of certain medications
Inadequate iodine in the diet, which is rare in developed countries
Exposure to ionizing radiation, although this is rare as a cause of hypothyroidism
Many babies born with hypothyroidism have no symptoms at all, or their symptoms do not present for several days to weeks.
Symptoms of congenital hypothyroidism can include:
Heavier birth weight
Dull look on the face
Tongue that seems to stick out
Difficulty eating or choking issues
Difficulty maintaining temperature
Unusual, hoarse cry
Longer than normal jaundice
Lack of activity
Symptoms of hypothyroidism that develop later include:
Goiter (a swelling in the lower neck)
Dry skin, dry hair, and brittle nails
Not wanting to be active
Difficulty with temperature extremes
Abnormal sexual development
Slightly heavier weight than peers
If untreated, hypothyroidism can cause the following problems for children and teens:
Developmental delays, both physical and mental
Incorrect development of the central nervous system
Failure to grow and meet developmental milestones
Call your health care provider if your child shows any hypothyroidism symptoms. Early diagnosis and treatment are important.
Doctors typically take a medical history and do a physical exam. A simple blood test can let you know whether your child’s thyroid is functioning correctly. Imaging studies, such as a thyroid scan or ultrasound, might also be needed to diagnose the condition.
The goal of treatment is to get thyroid hormone levels up to normal and reduce symptoms of hypothyroidism.
Treatment is usually one of two options:
Taking thyroid hormones regularly to increase the levels in the blood
Having surgery for an extreme goiter