The thyroid gland, which is located at the front of the neck near the clavicles, is responsible for the rate of all metabolic and chemical processes in our body, in every cell, tissue and organ. Thyroid gland disorders consequently have a profound effect upon the human body. When the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone (overactive), the condition is called hyperthyroidism. When the thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone (underactive), the condition is called hypothyroidism. Thyroid problems can occur at any age, infants can even be born with a thyroid problem! Congenital hypothyroidism affects a ratio of 1 in 4000 newborn babies and used to be a major cause of mental disabilities. Development of the brain, as well as normal growth of the child, is dependent upon normal levels of thyroid hormone. From congenital hypothyroidism and Hashimoto's thyroiditis to Graves disease, children and teens can develop thyroid disease. Hypothyroidism most commonly occurs when the thyroid gland isn't producing enough thyroid hormone, either because it can't (primary hypothyroidism) or because it isn't being stimulated properly (secondary hypothyroidism). The good news is that thyroid disorders can be managed very effectively, usually with medication. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in children increases in frequency as adolescence approaches. Development of eye complications (ophthalmopathy) occurs, but is not nearly as severe as in adults. Children can have the same symptoms as adults, but the child may not actually complain about them. The biggest problem before the diagnosis is known to be extreme restlessness and short attention span. This may lead to school difficulties and often-parental frustration. Treatment is usually started with antithyroid drugs. In some children the thyroid gland is removed to bring the hyperthyroidism under control. In other children long term use of the antithyroid drugs is best. Treatment with radioactive iodine is only occasionally used in early childhood. It may be very helpful in older adolescents, particularly those whose hyperthyroidism is difficult to control.
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