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About the Thyroid Gland

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that lies in front of the windpipe, just below the larynx, or voice box. Using iodine from food, the thyroid gland makes two thyroid hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are stored in the thyroid gland and are released as they are needed.

Thyroid hormones regulate the way the body uses energy. A lack of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism) or excess of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism) affects many body systems. This can cause a wide range of symptoms, including changes in weight, heartbeat, body temperature, digestion, mood, and muscle function.

The hypothalamus and the pituitary gland, located in the brain, help control the thyroid gland. The hypothalamus secretes thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to secrete thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).

  • When thyroid hormone levels are low, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland secrete more TRH and TSH—this stimulates the thyroid to make more hormones.
  • When there is too much thyroid hormone, the hypothalamus and pituitary gland secrete less TRH and TSH—this reduces hormone production by the thyroid, and thyroid hormone levels drop.

This control mechanism can be affected by disease or a tumor of the pituitary gland.

Thyroid hormones affect every cell and all the organs in the body. Thyroid hormones:

  • Regulate the rate at which calories are burned, which affects weight loss or weight gain
  • Can slow down or speed up the heartbeat
  • Can raise or lower body temperature
  • Influence the rate at which food moves through the digestive tract
  • Control the way muscles contract
  • Control the rate at which dying cells are replaced

A thyroid disorder may be congenital or develop later in childhood

Congenital Hypothyroidism
Hashimoto's Thyroiditis
Thyroid Nodules
  There are other rare conditions of the thyroid. To find more information about some of these conditions, use the section of this site called Rare Diseases A to Z.

If your child has been diagnosed with a condition of the thyroid, the doctor may recommend one or more of the following tests. For other tests and diagnostic procedures use the section of this site called Medical Tests A to Z.
CT Scan of the Head and Face
Genetic Testing
Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) of the Head
Thyroid Biopsy
Thyroid Hormone Tests
Thyroid Scan and Radioactive Iodine Uptake Test
Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone (TSH)
Thyroid and Parathyroid Ultrasound

Antithyroid Medications for Hyperthyroidism
Making the Decision About Treatment for Hyperthyroidism
Radioactive Iodine for Hyperthyroidism
Radioactive Iodine for Thyroid Nodules
Thyroid Hormone Medications for Hypothyroidism


This listing provides you with Internet sites that are sponsored by government agencies or are well-known and credible national organizations.

» Go to the Thyroid Resource Directory


What is Congenital Hypothyroidism?

Congenital hypothyroidism is a loss of thyroid function that affects infants at birth. The condition is due to the failure of the thyroid gland to develop correctly during pregnancy—sometimes the thyroid gland is absent. As a result, the infant does not have enough thyroid hormone after birth. This may result in abnormal growth and development, as well as slower mental function. In fact, congenital hypothyroidism is one of the most common, preventable causes of mental retardation.

How is Congenital Hypothyroidism Diagnosed?

Infants in the United States are tested for the disorder as newborns. State public health programs perform these screening tests to detect some genetic diseases for which early diagnosis and treatment are available. Although the states vary in what tests they perform, all 50 states test for congenital hypothyroidism. The test is done when the newborn is between 24 and 72 hours old.

The reason the test is done so early is that infants with congenital hypothyroidism usually appear normal at birth and may not show any signs or symptoms of the condition until they are several months old. Blood for the screening test is obtained from the infant's heel and is placed on a piece of filter paper. The laboratory measures the infant’s level of thyroid hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone. If these tests indicate hypothyroidism, the infant’s pediatrician is contacted immediately so treatment can begin without delay. It is likely that the blood tests will be repeated to confirm the diagnosis.

The pediatrician may also take an x-ray of the legs to look at the ends of the bones. In infants with congenital hypothyroidism, the bones have an immature appearance, which also helps to confirm the diagnosis. A scan of the thyroid may also be done to determine the location, or absence of the thyroid gland.

How is Congenital Hypothyroidism Treated?

If congenital hypothyroidism is treated within the first month of life, the child can grow and develop normally. If congenital hypothyroidism is not treated, the infant may develop brain damage, leading to mental retardation and a delay in normal development.

Symptoms of congenital hypothyroidism are seldom apparent at birth. The age at which the symptoms appear (and their severity) depends on the function of the infant’s thyroid gland.

During the first few months of life, symptoms may include poor appetite, choking while nursing, failure to gain weight and grow, constipation, breathing difficulties, a hoarse cry, and sluggishness. The infant’s abdomen may be enlarged and seem to protrude. The skin may feel cold and look mottled, and infant’s genitals, hands, and feet may be swollen.

Congenital hypothyroidism is treated with thyroid hormone replacement. An infant treated for the condition within the first month of life can expect to grow and develop normally. Treatment must be continued for life.

The infant will require frequent visits to the doctor for blood tests. These may be done weekly until laboratory values show normal thyroid levels. Once the levels are normal, blood tests will become less frequent, generally every 2 - 3 months, for the first three years. Successful treatment depends on life long daily medication with close follow up of thyroid hormone levels.

Taking medication on a routine basis needs to become a part of the child’s lifestyle assure optimal growth and development.

Last modified on: 30 June 2015