The thyroid is a small gland
below the skin and muscles at the front of the neck, at the spot where a bow tie would
It's brownish red, with left and right halves (called lobes) that look like a butterfly's
wings. It weighs less than an ounce, but helps the body do many things, such as get
energy from food, grow, and go through sexual
What Is Hyperthyroidism?
Thyroid hormone problems happen when the thyroid gland makes either too much or
too little hormone for the body.
If the thyroid is overactive, it releases too much thyroid hormone into the bloodstream,
causing hyperthyroidism. The body use up energy more quickly than
it should, and chemical activity (like metabolism) in the cells speeds up.
If the thyroid is underactive, it makes too little thyroid hormone, causing hypothyroidism.
The body uses up energy more slowly, and chemical activity (metabolism) in the cells
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism?
High thyroid hormone levels (hyperthyroidism) can cause:
a fast heartbeat
irregular menstrual periods in girls
Sometimes the thyroid gland grows and forms a bulge in the neck called a goiter.
Medicines and other techniques can effectively treat hyperthyroidism. It's important
to work with an
(a doctor who specializes in hormone problems) or other doctor who knows
how to treat thyroid conditions.
What Causes Hyperthyroidism?
The three main causes of hyperthyroidism are:
Graves' disease. This is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism
in children. It happens when the body produces antibodies that make the thyroid gland
overactive. Antibodies usually help the body fight infection, but these antibodies
stop the body from controlling the thyroid gland correctly (like a car without brakes).
As a result, the thyroid hormone levels in the blood can get very high. Doctors don't
know why the body starts making these antibodies. Graves' disease can affect health
for the rest of a person's life. So it's important to get medical treatment to control
Thyroid gland inflammation (thyroiditis). This causes the thyroid
gland to leak too much thyroid hormone into the blood. Thyroiditis can be caused by
a lots of things — for example, a blow to the thyroid gland, infections, and
diseases (like Hashimoto's
thyroiditis). Hyperthyroidism from thyroiditis usually lasts for a few months
and then gets better on its own. The thyroid usually recovers, but sometimes is damaged
and can't work normally again. This causes hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
Thyroid nodules (growths in the thyroid gland). These can sometimes
make large amounts of thyroid hormones, causing symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Overactive
thyroid nodules are usually large (an inch or more in size) and can be big enough
to feel in the neck. Most overactive thyroid nodules are
and treated with surgery.
What Are the Signs & Symptoms of Graves' Disease?
Kids and teens with Graves' disease might notice that:
they're more tired than usual
they have lots of trouble sleeping
they lose weight
their heart is beating very fast
their hands shake (called tremor)
they have a lot of trouble focusing
Girls with Graves' disease sometimes notice that they have fewer (or less regular)
menstrual cycles. Over time, many people notice that their thyroid glands are enlarged.
Some people with Graves' disease have troubles with their eyes — itching, burning,
redness, and sometimes trouble seeing normally. Sometimes they feel pressure behind
the eyes, feel their eyes bulging, or see double. This is because the antibodies that
make the thyroid overactive also cause
and swelling behind the eyes. When this happens, it's called Graves'
How Is Graves' Disease Diagnosed?
Graves' disease is diagnosed based on a visit with a doctor who will review the
symptoms and examine the patient.
It's important to do lab tests too, because many people can have some of the symptoms
of hyperthyroidism for other reasons. Sometimes the blood tests aren't enough to be
sure of the diagnosis and other tests are needed, like a thyroid scan or ultrasound.
How Is Graves' Disease Treated?
Doctors usually treat Graves' disease with anti-thyroid medicines. These medicines
slow the release of thyroid hormones from the gland. They usually bring hormone levels
down to normal within a couple of months.
Many people with Graves' disease need to take anti-thyroid medicines for a long
time to control the condition — sometimes for the rest of their lives.
Some might need other treatment if anti-thyroid medicines don't help or cause side
effects, or if the disease is very hard to control. In these cases, two permanent
treatment options can be used: radioactive iodine treatment and surgery.
Radioactive iodine (RAI) is the most commonly used permanent treatment
for Graves' disease. RAI damages the thyroid gland so that it can't make too much
thyroid hormone. This doesn't harm other parts of the body. The RAI treatment is taken
in capsules or mixed with a glass of water. The thyroid gland quickly absorbs the
RAI from the bloodstream and, within a few months, the gland shrinks and symptoms
Surgery to remove most of the thyroid gland is called a thyroidectomy.
It's done in a hospital under general
anesthesia, so the person is asleep and feels nothing. A small incision (cut)
in the lower central part of the neck usually leaves a thin scar. It's common to have
some pain for a few days after the surgery, but most people feel much better within
a few days.
After treatment for hyperthyroidism, hormone production often slows down to hypothyroid
(underactive) levels. So the person needs to take a thyroid hormone replacement tablet
each day. This treatment is a lot easier to manage than taking pills to control the
hyperthyroidism — fewer blood tests, doctor visits, and medicine changes are needed.
As the body adjusts to the hormone replacement tablets, a doctor may increase or
reduce the dosage until the levels of thyroid hormone are normal. When the doctor
finds the proper dosage, people usually feel well and free of symptoms. The doctor
will continue to check hormone levels to make sure the dosage is right, especially
for growing teens whose levels might change over just a few months.
What Else Should I Know?
We don't know why people develop Graves' disease. But with good medical help, kids
and teens can be healthy and do all the things other kids and teens can do.
Graves' eye disease can develop at any time in someone who has Graves' disease.
Smoke can make this eye disease much worse, so it's very important to not smoke
and to avoid secondhand
Women with Graves' disease need to be very careful to keep their hormone levels
in balance. Uncontrolled thyroid hormone levels in a pregnant woman can lead to problems
during pregnancy and harm her baby.