The relationship between thyroid function and childhood development is critical. While I assume most people reading this already know what their thyroid is and what it does, plenty of people out there have no idea. If you’ve never had a problem with it or never known anyone who has, you might not have ever even thought about it.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low on the front of the neck. Your thyroid lies below your Adam’s apple, along the front of the windpipe. The thyroid has two side lobes, connected by a bridge (isthmus) in the middle. When the thyroid is its normal size, you can’t feel it. Brownish-red in color, the thyroid is rich with blood vessels. Nerves important for voice quality also pass through the thyroid. The thyroid secretes several hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones. The main hormone is thyroxine, also called T4. Thyroid hormones act throughout the body, influencing metabolism, growth and development, and body temperature. During infancy and childhood, adequate thyroid hormone is crucial for brain development. Human Anatomy By Matthew Hoffman, MD
The Thyroid Controls Every Cell in Your Body
I have heard it said that this little butterfly-shaped endocrine gland controls every cell in your body. It doesn’t get much more important than that. Imagine starting out in life without something that affects ALL of your systems and keeps them running smoothly. It’s a bit like trying to run your car without an alternator.
One in every 2,000 to 4,000 people is born with hypothyroidism. We’re talking close to 100,000 people out of 330,000,000 in the United States or 0.03% of our population. Not too many of us running around out there.
While a baby is in utero, it is receiving everything it needs from Mom, including thyroid hormones, assuming Mom does not also have a thyroid function problem. Once born, it takes a while for the thyroid hormones to taper off, so it may be weeks before symptoms appear. Symptoms include poor growth and development, puffiness, poor muscle strength, sleeping all the time, jaundice, large soft spot on the head (fontanelle), etc. At any age, over time and without treatment, symptoms increase in severity to myxedema, coma, and death. I will discuss symptoms more in depth in a later post.
My Childhood Development Journey
My husband (Joel) and I moved to McGregor, Texas about a year-and-a-half ago from a house I had lived in (and accumulated stuff in) for 34 years, and there are many, many things I cannot find. One thing I was able to find is a stack of papers discussing developmental tests related to thyroid function that my parents had set up between ages 3 to 5. I remember at least one of these occasions because I got to ride a tricycle up and down the halls while the test administrators were talking to my parents.
The first test was by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Dallas, and they have the wrong birth date listed! It does list the name of the physician who discovered my problem – Dr. Richard Bates, and that I was nine weeks old when I was diagnosed (August 30, 1977). Somewhere in my scrapbook boxes, I have a note that my mother wrote dated August 30, 1977 – a prayer for her baby daughter who was very sick and the cause unknown – the very day it was diagnosed.
Dr. Jim Marks was a pediatric endocrinologist I saw from that point on until 1984, and again from 1989 until the mid 90’s. I remember him well including his fuzzy beard, masculine cologne, and giant horn-rimmed glasses. He was a wonderful doctor who took excellent care of me for the time that we had. I say it that way for a reason, but I don’t want to get ahead of myself.
Childhood Development Evaluations
Attached here is a copy of the childhood development evaluations in PDF format from that time, if you are interested in what they were testing for and the results of those tests. Basically, what it says is that I was a super cool kid who was astronomically smart, hilariously witty, fantastically entertaining, really, really, really, ridiculously good-looking, and sincerely humble.
I might be laying it on a little thick there! What it actually indicates is that with proper treatment and consistent medication, even above-average childhood development is possible! Proper, consistent monitoring and treatment of thyroid hormone levels is critical! This cannot be over-stressed. Monitoring consists of blood samples taken several times a year during childhood. They should be taken any time when fluctuation is detected or likely. For example, puberty causes many changes in the body, and it is important to keep a close eye on thyroid hormone function during this time. Self-awareness is also very important! Listen to what the body is telling you about itself. We know our bodies better than anyone else, and if you believe there is a problem, get it checked out!
On my next post, we’ll continue our journey in 1984.
Stay healthy and safe!