Excessive Weight Loss in Children Could be a Sign of Thyroid Problems

December 29, 2016 Maureen Villasenor, MD


Has your child become more restless, squirmy and nervous than usual? Has she been eating a lot but still seems to be losing weight? If so, there is a chance that they may have hyperthyroidism.

The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland located at the base of the neck that is responsible for producing hormones that regulate our metabolism and control how energy is used up by cells in the body. Hyperthyroidism is what happens when the thyroid gland becomes too active and releases too much of the thyroid hormone into the blood, causing our bodies to metabolize and use up energy much faster than they should. “Hyperthyroidism is a serious condition that, if left untreated, can lead to severe conditions including congestive heart disease and osteoporosis,” warns Maureen Villasenor, MD, a board-certified pediatrician at St. Joseph Heritage Medical Group. “In children, it can also affect or stunt growth.”

Hyperthyroidism is hereditary. This means that a child with hyperthyroidism would have likely inherited it from a family member. If mom, dad or any of the grandparents have thyroid problems, then the child is at high risk of inheriting it. “Although we do not know what causes hyperthyroidism to develop, it can be easily controlled. With the right medication, children who experience this condition can live a healthy, and normal life,” Dr. Villasenor states.

A lack of iodine in the body can also cause problems with the thyroid. Iodine is a mineral that is needed for the body to produce thyroid hormone and is naturally found in seafood and milk. Iodine is also found in most brands of table salt which are regularly used in the American diet. Because of this, it is very uncommon to develop thyroid problems as a result of a lack of iodine in the diet.

Sometimes, a child may show no symptoms, and the problem may only be detected during a physical examination. But, typically, children with hyperthyroidism tend to have a fast heartbeat and trouble sleeping. Their hands may tremble, and they may sweat a lot even when it is cold outside, or when they are not doing any physically exerting activities. They also have a big appetite, but despite being hungry often, no matter how much they eat, they keep losing weight.

“If you think your child may have problems with their thyroid, it is important to see your doctor or pediatrician right away,” says Dr. Villasenor. “Your doctor will conduct a physical exam, order blood tests and may order an ultrasound of your child’s throat to check for any nodules. If your child is found to have hyperthyroidism, then your doctor will send you to a specialist in pediatric endocrinology who can prescribe medications that they will need to take daily.” Sometimes surgery is required to remove all or part of your child’s thyroid gland in order to get the hormone levels under control. For older children they may recommend radioactive iodine treatment. Regardless of the method used, once your child’s thyroid levels are normalized they will need regular check-ups with the specialist to ensure the hormones stay regulated.

Although hyperthyroidism can lead to more severe conditions, once properly treated, your child can live a full and healthy life. 

This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.



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