Children can suffer from hyperthyroidism, also known as an overactive thyroid.

The condition occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone. This overproduction of the hormone causes a child's metabolism to be overactive, which can cause weight loss, irregular or rapid heartbeat, anxiety and even decreased school performance. 

There are several different types of hyperthyroidism, but the main type seen in children is Graves’ disease. Graves’ disease occurs when the immune system develops antibodies that latch on to the thyroid cells, making the thyroid over-produce the thyroid hormone. This disease is more common in girls than boys, and is most common in adolescents.

The symptoms of hyperthyroidism can range from mild to severe. These symptoms can include increased blood pressure, an enlarged thyroid, an increased heart rate, irritated or bulging eyes with visible redness or blood vessels, anxiety, irritability and nervousness, poor, restless sleep, fatigue, an increased appetite, accompanied with or without weight loss, heat tolerance (always warm), poor or decreased school performance or difficulty concentrating. 

To diagnose hyperthyroidism, the doctor will ask for your family medical history and complete a physical examination. A blood test may be taken to help determine thyroid hormone levels. A doctor may also use an ultrasound to create an image of the child’s thyroid. Additionally, a small amount of iodine may need to be swallowed to monitor how the thyroid absorbs the iodine.

The type of treatment used will depend on the cause of the hyperthyroidism. Treatment may include anti-thyroid medication, radioactive iodine ablation or the surgical removal of half or all of the thyroid.

For a majority of children, hyperthyroidism can be controlled after several months of treatment. Once hormone levels are shown to be improving or at normal levels, children will be able to resume their normal activities.

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Dr. Shahab Abdessalam is board certified in pediatric surgery, general surgery, surgical oncology and surgical critical care. He joined Boys Town Hospital in 2019. To read more about Dr. Abdessalam, click here.

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