International Thyroid Awareness Week 2016 will be celebrated around the world from 23-27 May. This year's campaign aims to raise the profile of thyroid disease and how it affects children and babies.

Children and thyroid disorders

Thyroid disorders in children and babies are rare but finding out that you or your child is affected can be a frightening and distressing experience. Each year about 3000 babies in the UK are born with a thyroid that doesn’t work properly. This is known as congenital hypothyroidism (or CHT). The heel prick test, carried out soon after a baby is born, should pick up any problems.

If a thyroid problem is confirmed the baby will need to be treated with levothyroxine as soon as possible because thyroid hormone has a key role in normal growth and brain development. Thyroid hormone is particularly important for brain growth in the first two years of life.

Parents and carers should be reassured that so long as their children receive regular care as recommended by their medical team the outlook for babies with CHT is excellent.

Sometimes a child’s thyroid may stop working properly later on in childhood. This may be because its thyroid fails to produce enough thyroxine and becomes underactive (hypothyroidism) or starts to produce too much and is overactive (hyperthyroidism).

Supervised medical treatment is very important to ensure the child gets adequate thyroxine for them to grow and develop properly. The good news is however that with the right support the outlook for all these children is excellent.

• For additional resources for parents, carers and children go to the BTF Children’s Project pages

• For a free DVD copy of our short animated film for children with hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, or to join our Closed Facebook Group for Parents please email children@btf-thyroid.org

Children and iodine

Thyroid hormones are vital for every cell in the human body to function. The thyroid gland needs iodine to make thyroid hormones and so it is not surprising that we need to have the right amount of this nutrient in our diet.

It has been assumed for many years that we can get iodine from the food we eat. Children can get their supply of iodine by drinking milk – the main source of iodine – and from other dairy produce and fish. However, at this time in the UK there is concern that some groups do not get enough iodine from the food they eat. This is a particular problem for pregnant women and women who are breast-feeding: low iodine levels in mothers has been linked to children performing less well at school.

Salt containing iodine was generally available in the past but this is not the case now. There is a lot of interest in this topic at the moment – please see the following articles and resources:

Iodine deficiency in the UK: grabbing the low-hanging fruit, The Lancet (April 2016)

UK Iodine Group http://www.ukiodine.org

UK Iodine Group Frequently asked Questions

UK Iodine Group pregnancy information

Iodine food fact sheet