Goiter in Children: What Parents Should Know
Goiter is a disease with different manifestations that can occur relatively frequently in children. Sometimes the symptoms are barely noticeable. At other times the symptoms can be serious.
Goiter is due to an increase in the size of the thyroid gland. The thyroid is responsible for producing many of the hormones that are fundamental for growth and child development. We’ll examine the extent to which goiter in children is a worrisome illness.
What is goiter?
As we’ve said, goiter causes an increase in the size of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and it’s located in the front part of the neck.
Its function is to produce thyroid hormones that are responsible for controlling growth and metabolism. Specifically, the hormones in question are:
- T3 Triiodothyronine
- T4 Thyroxine
The functioning of the thyroid gland can be compromised when it becomes inflamed. Moreover, this can cause one of two outcomes:
- Hyperthyroidism: increases the synthesis of thyroid hormones in the gland
- Hypothyroidism: lowers the hormone activity in the gland and the hormone levels in affected tissues. This can happen for a number of reasons:
- Low hormone production.
- Metabolic changes or changes in the distribution of hormones in the body.
- Resistance to the effects of hormones in body tissues.
What are the causes of goiter in children?
There are many causes that can lead to this disorder in children. For example, some of them include:
- Thyroiditis due to infection. Some viruses like measles, mumps, or influenza can produce thyroid inflammation. It’s called De Quervain’s thyroiditis.
- Autoimmune thyroiditis. In such cases, the immune system attacks the thyroid and it damages it. It can occur, for example, with Down’s syndrome or Turner’s syndrome. Likewise, the disease called Graves Basedow is also a common cause for hyperthyroidism in children.
- A lack of iodine in food. This is the most common cause of goiter at a worldwide level. Iodine is necessary for hormone synthesis in the thyroid and for its proper functioning.
What are the symptoms of goiter in children?
The symptoms or clinical manifestation of this disorder depends on many factors, like the type of goiter, for example, or the associated causes. In addition, other factors can include the age at which it presents itself, and the characteristics of each child, etc.
In general terms, when the gland is highly inflamed, the child might have difficulty swallowing, and even with chewing food. Furthermore, when it involves a case of goiter due to infections, there tends to be fever, inflammation, and pain in the neck.
When a child has hypothyroidism, the most common symptoms are the following:
- Delay in growth, associated with short stature
- Delay in puberty
- Lack of appetite
- Dry skin and propensity to feel cold
- Hair loss
When a child presents signs of hyperthyroidism, the most common symptoms are the following:
- Rapid growth
- Difficulties sleeping and concentrating
- High blood pressure
- Increase in appetite
- Loss of weight
How is goiter treated?
The treatment for goiter and its symptoms needs to be carried out and monitored by an endocrinologist. Initially, they tend to prescribe anti-inflammatories to reduce inflammation in the gland and to reduce side effects as a result.
In the case that the child has hypothyroidism, the treatment consists of the administration of thyroid hormones. So, doctors prescribe this in the form of levothyroxine, while fasting, once a day.
When a child presents with the opposite scenario because they have an excess of thyroid hormones, we’re talking about hyperthyroidism. As a consequence, the treatment consists of taking anti-thyroid drugs. If that’s not effective, the doctors usually resort to surgery.
In adults, doctors treat hyperthyroidism with radioactive iodine. But in children, they don’t typically administer this because the side effects are unknown.
In conclusion, goiter is a disease with different manifestations that can commonly occur in children. Therefore, the minute there are symptoms like the ones mentioned above we should consult a pediatrician.