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Hyperthyroidism (Graves disease)
What is hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism means too much thyroid hormone is in the bloodstream or the thyroid is overactive. The high thyroid hormones levels can speed up the body’s metabolism. In newborns, the most common cause of an overactive thyroid is called neonatal Graves’ disease, which can be life threatening.
What causes hyperthyroidism?
Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in newborns and older pediatric patients. (It is called Grave’s disease after Doctor Graves who first described it.) Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder caused by the production of antibodies that stimulate the thyroid gland to make thyroid hormone. When a pregnant woman has these antibodies, they can cross the placenta and stimulate the fetus' thyroid gland to make extra thyroid hormone, so a fetus or newborn can have hyperthyroidism as well.
Injury to the thyroid from another autoimmune disease of the thyroid (Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) and infections of the thyroid can lead to unregulated release of thyroid hormone into the bloodstream and cause temporary hyperthyroidism.
What are the symptoms of hyperthyroidism?
The following are the most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism:
- Fast heartbeat.
- High blood pressure.
- Bulging eyes.
- Frequent stooling.
- Heat intolerance (feeling overly hot when others are comfortable).
- Difficulty swallowing or breathing due to enlarged thyroid gland (goiter).
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism may resemble other conditions or medical problems. Always consult your child's physician for a diagnosis.
How is hyperthyroidism diagnosed?
A medical history, physical examination, and measurement of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream are needed. Blood samples may indicate hyperthyroidism due to abnormal levels of T4 (a thyroid hormone ) and thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH (a hormone that regulates thyroid hormone production). Also, ultrasound and uptake of radioactive iodine by the thyroid are sometimes used to figure out the cause of the high thyroid hormone levels.
Treatment for hyperthyroidism:
Decreasing thyroid hormones to appropriate levels is the goal of treatment for hyperthyroidism. Typically, medications that block the production of thyroid hormones are the first treatment used. If the medication is not working or side effects are not able to be tolerated, surgery to remove the thyroid or radioactive iodine (an oral medication) to specifically destroy the thyroid can be performed by specialists. Medications to control increased heart rate or blood pressure can also be used in the short-term until the thyroid hormone blocking medications take full effect.