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October 2016

Thyroid Disorders in Children and Adolescents: A Review

Author Affiliations
  • 1The Thyroid Center, Division of Endocrinology and Diabetes, The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
  • 2Department of Pediatrics, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia
JAMA Pediatr. 2016;170(10):1008-1019. doi:10.1001/jamapediatrics.2016.0486

Importance  Normal thyroid gland function is critical for early neurocognitive development, as well as for growth and development throughout childhood and adolescence. Thyroid disorders are common, and attention to physical examination findings, combined with selected laboratory and radiologic tools, aids in the early diagnosis and treatment.

Objective  To provide a practical review of the presentation, evaluation, and treatment of thyroid disorders commonly encountered in a primary care practice.

Evidence Review  We performed a literature review using the PubMed database. Results focused on reviews and articles published from January 1, 2010, through December 31, 2015. Articles published earlier than 2010 were included when appropriate for historical perspective. Our review emphasized evidence-based management practices for the clinician, as well as consensus statements and guidelines. A total of 479 articles for critical review were selected based on their relevance to the incidence, pathophysiology, laboratory evaluation, radiological assessment, and treatment of hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer in children and adolescents. Eighty-three publications were selected for inclusion in this article based on their relevance to these topics.

Findings  The primary care physician is often the first health care professional responsible for initiating the evaluation of a thyroid disorder in children and adolescents. Patients may be referred secondary to an abnormal newborn screening, self-referred after a caregiver raises concern, or identified to be at risk of a thyroid disorder based on findings from a routine well-child visit. Irrespective of the path of referral, knowledge of the signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and thyroid nodules, as well as the general approach to evaluation and management, will help the primary care physician complete an initial assessment and determine which patients would benefit from referral to a pediatric endocrinologist.

Conclusions and Relevance  Early identification and treatment of thyroid disease in children and adolescents is critical to optimize growth and development. The primary care physician plays a critical role in identifying patients at risk. An understanding of risk factors, clinical signs and symptoms, and interpretation of screening laboratories ensures an efficient and accurate diagnosis of these common disorders. Regular communication between the primary care physician and the subspecialist is critical to optimize outcome because the majority of patients with thyroid disorders will require long-term to lifelong medical therapy and/or surveillance.

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