Graves Disease

Graves disease, also known as hyperthyroidism, is a condition that causes your thyroid gland to make too much thyroid hormone, or become over-active.

The thyroid gland is located in the neck and is shaped like a butterfly. There are several hormones made by the thyroid gland that are important for growth and development. These same hormones also help with your energy level and help the heart, liver, kidneys and skin work correctly. These important hormones are called thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).

The thyroid gland is told to make T4 and T3 by another hormone which is made in the brain. This hormone is called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). When a child’s TSH is low, the body might be making special cells that act like TSH. These cells are called antibodies. In this case, the antibodies tell the thyroid gland to make more T3 and T4. When this happens a child has Graves disease or hyperthyroidism.

Graves disease is more common in teenage girls, but can be found in boys and girls of any age.

Graves disease is caused by the body’s immune system when it gets confused and begins to attack cells, tissues or organs that it is supposed to protect. When the immune system attacks the tissues in the thyroid gland, the gland releases too much T4 and T3 into the blood stream.

Signs and symptoms of graves disease/hyperthyroidism include:

  • Increased energy with periods of extreme tiredness
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Inability to tolerate heat
  • Trouble concentrating in school
  • Diarrhea
  • Fast, pounding heart beat

Hyperthyroidism, in many cases, can be easily treated by taking an anti-thyroid medication every day. This medication keeps your thyroid gland from making too much hormone. It is very important to make sure your child takes his/her medicine everyday at about the same time. At first, your child may need to take this medicine several times a day. The doctor will let you know when you can take the medicine less often. Never change the medicine dose on your own. There are several symptoms to watch for that can help your doctor treat your child with the correct dose of medication.

The dose may be too low if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Trouble sleeping
  • Shaking (tremors)
  • Loses weight
  • Irritability
  • Diarrhea
  • Excessive hunger
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles

The dose may be too high if your child has any of the following symptoms:

  • Sleeping too much
  • Constipation
  • Cold, dry skin
  • Gaining weight too quickly
  • Low energy/activity level
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles

The doctor will want to see you frequently during the first year to check on your child’s growth and development. Depending on your particular situation, your doctor may want to see your child as often as once a month. Blood tests during these visits will help your doctor make sure the medication dose is correct.

Once your child starts to take thyroid medication, he/she may have more energy and better concentration at school. When a child is on the correct dose of anti-thyroid medicine, he/she should not have any symptoms of hyperthyroidism.

Radiation therapy can be used to treat hyperthyroidism when medication does not work. With this therapy, a radioactive form of iodine is given to stop the thyroid gland from working. Another treatment occasionally used, is removal of part or all of the thyroid gland with surgery. If your child needs either radioactive iodine therapy or surgery, your doctor will further discuss the risks/benefits with you.