When the thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormone it is called hypothyroidism. Congenital hypothyroidism is when the disorder is present in a baby at birth. If not treated, it can lead to serious health problems. The thyroid is a gland. It’s located in the neck, just below the voice box. The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormone. This hormone helps control the metabolism. This is the rate at which every part of the body functions. Thyroid hormone keeps the metabolism at a healthy pace. This helps the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs work well. A normal metabolism also helps ensure a healthy temperature, heart rate, energy level, and growth rate. If a baby does not make enough thyroid hormone, it can cause serious problems such as mental disability, growth delays, or loss of hearing.
The most common cause of congenital hypothyroidism is an autoimmune reaction. This is when the body’s immune system slowly destroys the thyroid gland. It can be caused by antibodies in your body before your baby's birth. Or it can be caused by treatment of a thyroid problem while you are pregnant.
A child is at risk for congenital hypothyroidism if he or she has any of these:
A newborn baby may have no symptoms at first. Symptoms can include:
Symptoms can vary with each child.
By law, all newborns are screened in the first few days of life for serious diseases. The testing is done with a few drops of blood taken from the baby’s heel. One of the tests is for thyroid function. The blood is tested for amounts of hormones from the thyroid. It is also tested for amounts of hormones that tell the thyroid to make more hormones. Your baby’s healthcare provider may also advise an imaging test of the thyroid gland.
Congenital hypothyroidism is most often treated by giving a child synthetic thyroid hormones every day. Your child will likely need to take these for life. In some cases, the thyroid gland may start working again. This may happen by age 3. The thyroid gland will be tested over time with blood tests. This can show if the thyroid starts working on its own. Your child’s growth and development will also be tracked over time.
Congenital hypothyroidism can affect a child's normal growth and development. This includes sexual development. If untreated, the condition can also lead to:
Congenital hypothyroidism can affect a child's normal growth and development. It’s important for a child to continue treatment until after puberty. This will help make sure a child reaches his or her normal adult height. Some children do not need to continue treatment into adulthood. Work with your child's healthcare providers to create an ongoing plan to manage your child’s condition.
Call your child's healthcare provider if you’re concerned about your child's growth, or if he or she has any signs of congenital hypothyroidism.
Tips to help you get the most from a visit to your child’s healthcare provider:
Article Last Updated: November 12, 2019
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