Hypothyroidism Information for Kids
This was written for you if you are more than 10 years old and have thyroid problems. It will explain:
- Where the thyroid gland is in the body.
- What thyroid hormones do.
- How you feel if you have too much or too little thyroid hormone.
- Different ways we find out how well your thyroid gland is working.
- Ways to help a thyroid gland that isn't working well.
We hope this will help you to know why you come to clinic visits, what your doctor looks for, and why you may need to take pills. If you like, you may share this with your parents, friends, and teachers after reading it. If you have any questions, please feel free to ask the doctors or nurses about them during your next clinic visit.
Definition of Words
There are many medical words used to explain thyroid problems so we will begin by telling you what some of these words mean.
- Gland - A special group of cells in your body that sends out a hormone.
- Hormone - A chemical “messenger” sent out from a gland into the bloodstream where it can carry its message to other cells in the body.
- Euthyroid – “Eu” means “normal”. Euthyroid means your thyroid gland is working normally.
- Hypothyroid – “Hypo” means “too little, not enough”. Hypothyroid means your thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone.
- Hyperthyroid – “Hyper” means “too much”. Hyperthyroid means your thyroid gland is making more thyroid hormone than your body needs.
Your Thyroid Gland
Your thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped group of cells in the front of your neck. The cells in a normal, healthy thyroid gland send out hormones, called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When your thyroid gland gets a message from the brain that your body needs these two hormones, the thyroid gland sends them into the bloodstream. The blood then carries these chemical “messengers” everywhere in your body. They help tell your body how to use the food you eat, what your temperature will be, how fast your heart will beat, and how fast you will grow. The thyroid hormones also help decide how much sleep you need, if your hair will be shiny and healthy and how often you will have a bowel movement. This means that if your thyroid gland doesn't work as it should and send out the correct amount of thyroid hormones you need, your body may not work as well.
When your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone, then you are hypothyroid. If your thyroid gland isn't making enough thyroid hormone for your body, you may:
- Have a swollen thyroid gland in your neck
- Feel cold when nobody else does
- Feel tired or sleepy during the day
- Be constipated
- Not grow at the same rate as your friends
- Notice that your hair feels thick or rough
- Have very dry skin
When your thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone, your doctor may give you a thyroid hormone pill to take. The thyroid hormone pill doctors often give is called Levothyroxine. You will need to take your thyroid pill every day at about the same time. You may find it helpful to take it before breakfast every day so you will not forget. If you are having trouble remembering to take your pills, ask your nurse for some helpful ideas.
When your doctor first decides you need to take thyroid hormone, we need to be sure you are getting the right amount. It may take a little while to figure out just the right dose that your body needs. When you start taking these pills, your doctor may make many changes in the number of pills or the dose of the pill. As you grow and get older, your body will need different amounts of thyroid hormone. The doctor will do a blood test before or after your clinic visits to make sure you are taking the right amount for your body.
After you have been taking your thyroid pills for a while, the symptoms of hypothyroidism (which are listed above) will go away. It is still very important for you to keep on taking your thyroid pills, because without them you will become hypothyroid again.
One thing you need to do if you are taking pills for this is to be aware of changes in the way you feel. Sometimes, you are the first one to know if you are taking too much or too little medicine. If you are taking Synthroid and taking too much you may:
- Feel hot when nobody else does
- Be crabby very often
- Lose weight
- Have diarrhea
- Not be able to sit still
- Have trouble sleeping
- Have fine, silky hair
And if you are not taking enough, you may still be hypothyroid and:
- Be sleepy during the day
- Be constipated
- Feel cold when nobody else is
If these symptoms remain, be sure to tell your doctor who will decide if you need a change of medicine.
Ways of Telling How Well Your Thyroid Gland Is Working
These exams give your doctor a rough idea of how your thyroid gland is working.
- Feeling your thyroid gland: During a physical exam, the doctor may feel your thyroid gland in the front of your neck. Because your thyroid gland is easier to feel when it's moving, your doctor may ask you to swallow several times. If you have trouble swallowing when there is nothing in your mouth, ask for a glass of water.
- Reflexes: The doctor may tap your knee, ankle, or elbow with a rubber hammer to see if it twitches. If you don't have enough thyroid hormone, then part of your reflexes may be slower. If your thyroid levels are higher than normal, your reflexes may be fast.
- Heart Rate: We can also tell how your thyroid is working by timing how many times your heart beats in one minute. A normal heart rate is 60 to 100 beats a minute. If you do not have enough thyroid hormone, your heart rate may be slower. If you have too much hormone, your heart rate may be faster.
- Blood Pressure: Your blood pressure also can tell your doctor or nurse if you have too much, or not enough of the thyroid hormone. A high blood pressure reading may tell us that you may have too much thyroid hormone.
- Skin/Hair: Your doctor may feel your skin and hair to see how well your thyroid gland is working. If you are hypothyroid, your skin and hair may be dry and rough. If you have too much thyroid hormone, your skin and hair may be moist and oily.
- Height/Weight: Your thyroid gland also affects gains in height and weight. If you don't have enough thyroid hormone, you may grow more slowly than as you would with a normal hormone level. If you have too much thyroid hormone, you may grow too quickly and lose or gain weight. You will be weighed and measured during clinic visits to see if your body is growing as it should.
By testing a sample of your blood we can measure how much thyroid hormone you have in your body from your gland or from the pills you are taking. Most often, the blood sample is taken from your arm. It may sting, so it is all right if you cry or say “OUCH” but you need to hold your arm still for us. There is a numbing cream called EMLA® or ELAMAX® that can be put on your arm before the blood is taken so you may not feel the needle. Ask your nurse or doctor if you would like to try it. The blood test will tell us if you have just the right amount of thyroid hormone, or if you need to change the amount of medicine you are taking. As you grow and get older, your body will need different amounts of thyroid hormone. Blood tests help us decide if you need to change, or if you are getting exactly the amount you need.
Now a Quiz
(Fill in the Blanks):
1. The thyroid gland is located ______________________________and shaped like a ______________________________.
2. Thyroid hormones affect the way your body works. Name 3 things that thyroid hormones do in your body.
3. Match examples in column A with answers in column B.
1. Number of times your heart beats in a minute
3. Feeling the thyroid gland
4. Testing a blood sample
A. Gives the doctor a rough idea of how your thyroid gland is working
B. Gives the doctor an exact answer as to how well your thyroid gland is working
4. True or False. Some symptoms of being hypothyroid are
A. Feeling cold ______
B. Lots of energy ______
C. Thin, silky hair ______
D. Gaining weight ______
E. Eat more ______
F. Constipation ______
5. List 2 symptoms of taking too much thyroid hormone medicine.
List 2 symptoms of taking too little thyroid hormone medication.
6. How does thyroid hormone medicine help when a thyroid gland that isn’t working as it should?
1. Neck; butterfly
2. How fast your heart should beat
How much you grow
How to use the food you eat
3. A = Number of times your heart beats in a minute
B = Testing a blood sample
Lots of energy
Sleepy all the time
6. It supplies the thyroid hormone the gland isn't making.
The information provided should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed physician should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
Last Updated: 07/01/2013
Copyright © 06/01/2012 University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics Authority. All rights reserved. Produced by the Department of Nursing. HF#4604
Print Health Fact For You