Does your teen seem moody, restless, anxious, have difficulty concentrating, have trouble sleeping or appear uncharacteristically hyperactive? These traits typically associated with someone their age may not seem out of place.
However, there may be more going on beneath the surface, especially if your teen is nervous, irritable, experiences an elevated heart rate, has unexplained weight loss, or seems weaker than usual. Janna Flint Wilson, MD, a pediatric endocrinologist with Our Lady of Lourdes Women’s & Children’s Hospital, shares what parents need to know about hyperthyroidism in teens.
What is hyperthyroidism?
These symptoms may indicate thyrotoxicosis, more commonly referred to as hyperthyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland — a brownish-red, butterfly-shaped gland in the lower-front of the neck above the collar bone — produces too much thyroid hormone. These hormones ensure normal growth, energy, and metabolism, in addition to making sure the heart, muscles, and other organs work properly.
Too much of the thyroid hormone in the bloodstream speeds up most bodily functions, which could cause the body to use up energy at an increased rate and lead to unexplained weight loss. Also, it could accelerate growth or delay the onset of puberty.
More than 12 percent of people in the U.S. will develop some thyroid condition, according to the American Thyroid Association. About 20 million people in the U.S. currently have some form of thyroid disease, the data indicates, and of that number an estimated 60 percent are unaware of their condition. Women are up to 8 times more likely to have a thyroid condition than men.
What causes hyperthyroidism?
Graves’ disease — in which the immune system produces an antibody that stimulates the thyroid to ramp up production of the thyroid hormone — is the leading cause in about 95 percent of childhood hyperthyroidism cases. It more commonly occurs in families affected by autoimmune disease, such as hypothyroidism, Celiac disease or type 1 (childhood) diabetes. In addition, medications for cardiovascular conditions, such as amiodarone, can trigger hyperthyroidism.
How to treat and manage your teen’s hyperthyroidism
If your teen has hyperthyroidism symptoms, your pediatrician may refer you to a pediatric endocrinologist, who will look for additional symptoms like increased sweating, hand tremors, bulging eyes, irregular menstruation in girls, and an enlarged thyroid. Blood tests may reveal elevated levels of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream.
The good news is this condition is very manageable. The first step is medication to lower the level of thyroid hormones in the blood to more normal levels, which result in reduced or cessation of symptoms. Other options include surgery or radioiodine therapy — the use of radioactive iodine to reduce thyroid gland tissue. Your teen may notice some weight gain during treatment. That is completely normal, as the body begins to regain weight lost prior to treatment.
Talk to your pediatrician if you notice any hyperthyroidism symptoms in your teen. It may be typical traits that appear during the teenage years. If it isn’t, your pediatrician will refer you to a pediatric endocrinologist, who will work with you to determine the course of action that’s best for your teen and your family.
The process to seek care from a pediatric endocrinologist starts with your pediatrician. Get connected to one of our exceptional endocrinologists or pediatricians to help manage your child’s healthcare needs.