The thyroid gland, situated in the lower part of the neck, plays a vital role in producing essential hormones, namely, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: On World Thyroid Day observed on May 25, UAE doctors have highlighted how thyroid disorders can affect children and teens as well. The doctors who spoke to Gulf News underscored the importance of early detection, accurate diagnosis, and effective management of these conditions in all ages.

The thyroid gland, situated in the lower part of the neck, plays a vital role in producing essential hormones, namely, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones regulate the metabolism, growth and development of the human body, mood, breathing, heart rate, body temperature and more.

Thyroid disorders can be categorised into two main types: structural and functional diseases. The former includes enlargement of the thyroid gland (goiter) and the formation of nodules, which can be either benign or, rarely, cancerous.

Functional diseases, which affect the larger population, encompass hyperthyroidism (over activity) and hypothyroidism (under activity) of the thyroid gland.

“Thyroid diseases do affect at any age from birth to old age,” said

Dr Idrees Mubarik, consultant endocrinologist, Saudi German hospital, Dubai.

“Though the most common age group affected is in between 20 to 40 years, especially women, it can be present in children as well. Thyroid diseases can affect growth and mental development of young patients. It can cause other symptoms also like dry skin, lethargy, weight gain, swelling around feet and face etc,” he said.

Quoting international figures, Dr. Mona Ahmed Samaha, specialist pediatrician, Canadian Specialist Hospital, Dubai, said it is estimated that nearly 37 out of 1,000 children have thyroid disease.

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“When thyroid gland doesn’t work properly, children are at risk for delayed brain development, essentially in newborn, growth problems, weight problems, and early or delayed puberty. These long-term complications can be avoided by early diagnosis and adequate management.”

The implementation of universal newborn screening rules has led to the increased detection of thyroid diseases in children, said Dr Idrees.

This proactive approach ensures that all newborns are screened for thyroid disorders within the first week of life, enabling early intervention and management. Previously, these conditions often went undiagnosed in children, he pointed out.

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Risk factors

Various risk factors can contribute to thyroid disorders in children and teens. The doctors highlighted that hypothyroidism can be either congenital or acquired due to autoimmune conditions like Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Graves’ disease.

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Dr Idrees noted that while hereditary factors typically manifest in later life, neonatal and childhood hypothyroidism is usually sporadic. Risk factors include iodine deficiency and maternal intake of anti-thyroid medications. Recent research also suggests a potential link between obesity and elevated levels of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) in children.

“Some children are at higher risk for hypothyroidism. Inadequate or excessive iodine intake are risk factors associated with thyroid conditions.”

“Those with genetic conditions such as Down syndrome, Williams syndrome or Turner syndrome and autoimmune disorders such as type 1 diabetes or celiac disease need to undergo regular thyroid screening,” said Dr Mona.

She also pointed out that a history of radiation to the head and neck in cancer patients of any age can increase the risk of developing thyroid disorders, including thyroid cancer.

Symptoms to note

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include decreased energy and rate of growth, weight gain without increased appetite, brittle hair and dry skin, swollen or puffy appearance, muscle pain and constipation, while hyperthyroidism manifests as symptoms like tremors, palpitations, increased appetite with weight loss, sweat and sleep problems and staring eyes.

The doctors highlighted that hypothyroidism can also cause irregular menstrual cycles in girls after the onset of puberty.

The impact of thyroid disorders is not limited to physical health as it can cause mood disorders as well. Forgetfulness, fatigue, mental slowness, inattention, emotional lability, panic attacks, anxiety, tension, sleep disturbances, a short temper, and impatience have all been linked to thyroid disorders.

Therefore, early detection and appropriate management are vital to ensure normal development, and overall well-being of those showing these symptoms.

When it comes to treatment options, both specialists emphasised the effectiveness of medication in managing thyroid disorders. Hypothyroidism can be successfully treated with a daily dose of synthetic thyroid hormone medication, while hyperthyroidism can be controlled using anti-thyroid medication.

In severe cases, radioactive iodine ablation may be necessary to destroy overactive thyroid tissue. Surgical intervention, such as removing part or all of the thyroid gland, is considered for cases involving goiter, overactive nodules, or thyroid cancer.

World Thyroid Day

The Thyroid Federation International in 2007 designated May 25 as the World Thyroid Day to raise awareness about thyroid-related disorders, promote understanding of the importance of early diagnosis and treatment, and educate the public about thyroid health. The day serves as a global platform for various organisations, healthcare professionals, and individuals to come together and highlight the significance of thyroid health in overall well-being.