The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ that is located at the front of the neck. This important gland is primarily responsible for the secretion of two chemicals into the bloodstream: triiodothyronine and thyroxin. These chemicals, called thyroid hormones, have essential and comprehensive effects on the human body, from regulating metabolism, growth, and brain development to affecting muscle strength and body temperature.
In a condition known as Graves’ disease, the thyroid gland becomes overactive and releases too much thyroid hormone. It is believed that this increased level of thyroid activity, called hyperthyroidism, is the result of an attack of the body’s immune system on its own healthy cells. Normally, the immune system works to defend against fungi, bacteria, viruses, and other foreign invaders that threaten to infect the body and cause illness. In patients with Graves’ disease, the immune system does not recognize the healthy thyroid cells as “self” and attacks them, causing the release of excess thyroid hormone.
Adults and children suffering from Graves’ disease will often experience a wide variety of symptoms related to the dysfunction of the systems regulated by the thyroid gland. Because the thyroid regulates body temperature, for example, Graves’ patients will often experience intolerance to high temperatures. Other symptoms of Graves’ hyperthyroidism include:
- Irritability, anxiety, and nervousness
- Muscle weakness and fatigue
- Hand tremors
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss
- Goiter (an enlarged thyroid that appears as a lump at the front of the neck)
- Irregular and rapid pulse
- Appearance of bulging eyes (Graves’ ophthalmopathy)
Although this condition is most commonly seen in adults, it can also occur in children. If you suspect your child may be suffering from hyperthyroidism or any other endocrine disorder, consider contacting the pediatric specialists of Sunrise Children’s Hospital at (702) 731-5437. Our healthcare team is dedicated to providing the highest quality of care for the families in our community.