Graves’ Disease and Hyperthyroidism In Children: Definitions and Treatment

Hyperthyroidism In ChildrenIs your child lethargic, experiencing on-going belly pain and exhibiting a change in behavior? Changes in school performance and even some delay in growth and development may mean your child is suffering from hyperthyroidism problems due to Graves’ disease, an immune disorder and over-activity of the thyroid gland. Pediatric Graves’ disease is less common than a diagnosis for adults. In addition, a diagnosis of Graves’ disease can be rare. However, if either parent or their siblings have thyroid problems, it may be time for a visit to the Association of Childcare Physicians office to determine if hyperthyroidism is present.

What happens in children with hyperthyroidism? Along with a delay in growth and development, you may notice delayed puberty in your pre-teen. Hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems, so it’s often difficult to diagnose. In infants, the delays can be more severe and therefore more noticeable. Children with hyperthyroidism usually look younger than they are, may experience sudden weight loss yet an increased appetite. They may display increased anxiety and changes in bowel movements. It’s important to know that symptoms in children may develop over time as well, which makes an accurate diagnosis sometimes difficult. For example, there are cases of children being diagnosed with ADHD or ADD but instead have an overactive thyroid.

Graves’ disease is a common cause of hyperthyroidism in pediatric patients but a diagnosis of an overactive thyroid doesn’t automatically mean your child has Graves’ disease. Thyroids are located in the front portion of the neck, below the thyroid cartilage also known as the “Adam’s apple”. Thyroids are important because they regulate body energy and they play an important role when interacting with other hormones in the body. With a properly working thyroid, hormones successfully interact with nutrients in the body, offering proper growth and maturity of body tissues and optimum health.

If you suspect your child may have hyperthyroidism, more tests can be done to determine if Graves’ disease is the culprit. Patients with Graves’ disease may have a list of unexplained issues similar to hyperthyroidism, including rapid heartbeat, increased sweating, frequent bowel movements and/or sleeplessness. Because Graves’ disease symptoms are closely related to hyperthyroidism symptoms, making a confirmed diagnosis is important for proper treatment. If you notice some or many of these symptoms surfacing in your child, schedule an appointment with our office so that a diagnosis can be made.

A simple blood test can determine your child’s thyroid hormone level. If the diagnosis is confirmed by a high level of thyroid hormone level and a low level of pituitary thyroid stimulating level (TSH), your doctor will then need to determine the next steps for your child.

Depending on the diagnosis, treatment options will vary. For example, treating Graves’ disease can be done with the use of drug therapy. Other options, including surgical subtotal thyroidectomy or radioactive iodine can help with symptoms your child may be having. There are different options available when your child is experiencing symptoms of an increased thyroid level. The good news is that with thyroid hormone replacement and adequate treatment and medications, a child will catch up in height and weight to children in their age group and will begin to feel better.

Although Graves’ disease is an uncommon diagnosis, the genes have been known to be passed down from family members that have thyroid disease. That’s why it’s encouraged to receive testing for other family members after a confirmed diagnosis for Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism. Left untreated, the disease has potential to be life threatening. There are resources available if your child has been diagnosed with Graves’ disease or hyperthyroidism. One website,, can help you determine if your child is exhibiting symptoms of Graves’ disease and if further testing is required.

Early diagnosis can be helpful in all illnesses, especially in children. If you notice any symptoms of hyperthyroidism or have a family member that suffers from thyroid disease, please contact Dr. Shaw or Dr. Kellow at 618-235-2311 or visit to schedule an appointment.