Hypothyroidism in Infants and Children

What Are the Symptoms of Hypothyroidism in Infants and Children?

The signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism vary depending on the age of the child.

Symptoms In Infants And Young Children

Hypothyroidism that occurs in infancy or early childhood is called cretinism. Babies born with hypothyroidism classically show a number of symptoms in the first weeks to months of life. At birth, many symptoms are subtle, though, and can be missed. They include the following:

  • Prolonged newborn jaundice (a yellow discoloration of the skin and the whites of the eyes)
  • Poor feeding and constipation
  • Cool, mottled skin
  • Increased sleepiness
  • Decreased crying
  • Larger-than-normal soft spots on the skull
  • Umbilical hernia (a soft protrusion around the navel)
  • A large tongue

Over time, if untreated, other symptoms typically become apparent in older infants, toddlers, and young children. The most obvious symptoms observed in these youngsters reflect insufficient thyroid hormone for growth and development:

  • Short stature for age and delayed eruption of baby teeth
  • Delays in major developmental milestones
  • Puffy facial features
  • Severe mental retardation
  • Protruding abdomen and umbilical hernia (a soft protrusion around the navel)
  • Dry skin and sparse hair

Symptoms In Older Children

When hypothyroidism develops in older children before growth and development are complete, they may have a shorter-than-average height. Puberty may be delayed. They also may have symptoms more like those found in adults:

  • Slow heart rate
  • Tiredness
  • Inability to tolerate cold
  • Dry, flaky skin
  • Puffiness in the face, especially around the eyes
  • Impaired memory and difficulty in thinking (which may appear as a new learning disability)
  • Emotional depression
  • Drowsiness, even after sleeping through the night
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual periods (in girls at the age of puberty)
  • Constipation

Think of the child’s body as a motorcar. These symptoms reflect a vehicle running at too slow a speed. Some symptoms, such as inability to tolerate cold environments, are directly due to the decrease in heat generated within the body by slowed metabolic activity. Other symptoms, such as slow heart rate, tiredness, poor memory or difficulty in thinking, and even constipation, occur because there is not enough thyroid hormone to adequately stimulate  organs.


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