I wanted to speak about the thyroid because of its important role in growth. Many parents are concerned about their child’s or adolescent’s growth rate and development. It is one of my primary concerns when I review your child’s growth chart and mental development.
The thyroid gland is located at the base of the neck and cradles the wind-pipe surrounding it. Its role in the body’s chemical factory concerns important functions involving the rate which are body uses the basic building blocks of growth and how we control them. I do not want to go into detail how the thyroid functions but emphasize it has an important role. Because of this important role, how much or how little of the chemicals produced from the thyroid gland can influence how the child appears or the symptoms we see.
The mother’s thyroid gland and how well it functions can influence the growth of the developing baby. The newborn screening that is mandatory for every baby born includes a test for thyroid function. When the infant’s thyroid does not produce enough hormone, delayed mental and physical growth are delayed. We can treat the physical growth effectively, but in some cases the mental development is irreversibly damaged. It is this reason Pediatricians watch growth (mental and physical) so closely. The earlier I detect a problem and repair it, the better the chances for optimal development. In infants, poor muscle tone, slow growth, slow developmental maturation and other signs can indicate inadequate production of thyroid hormone. This can be replaced with medications. In older children and adolescents decreased energy, worsening grades, depression and other signs of decreased metabolism can indicate thyroid disorders. Weight gain alone is not a good indicator of slowed thyroid function. This is a common misconception by many parents and prompts them to request thyroid testing. In almost all cases this weight gain is due to eating more calories than necessary.
For some adolescents the thyroid may produce too much hormone causing weight loss, nervousness increased appetite. One type of thyroid found in the infant, child or adolescent can produce signs like those you noticed in Mrs. Barbara Bush (a past President’s wife) with the look of starring with bulging eyes. This is treated by blocking the thyroid from releasing the hormone or destroying the gland itself and providing the hormone with medications.
The point I want to leave is that the thyroid provides an important role in the normal function of the body. Any sign of problems of a poorly functioning thyroid gland are watched and if necessary evaluated and treated.