Paediatrics: Acquired hypothyroidism

2021-03-03 12:00 AM

A relatively common condition with an estimated prevalence of 0.1–0.2% in the population.

Acquired hypothyroidism

A relatively common condition with an estimated prevalence of 0.1–0.2% in the population. The incidence in girls is 5–10 times greater than in boys.


Acquired hypothyroidism may be due to a primary thyroid problem or indirectly to a central disorder of hypothalamic-pituitary function.

Primary hypothyroidism (raised TSH; low T4/T3)

  • Autoimmune (Hashimoto’s or chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis).
  • Iodine deficiency: most common cause worldwide.
  • Subacute thyroiditis.
  • Drugs (e.g. amiodarone, lithium).
  • Post-irradiation thyroid (e.g. bone marrow transplant—total body irradiation).
  • Post-ablative (radioiodine therapy or surgery).

Central hypothyroidism (low serum TSH and low T4) 

Hypothyroidism due to either pituitary or hypothalamic dysfunction.

  • Intracranial tumours/masses.
  • Post-cranial radiotherapy/surgery.
  • Developmental pituitary defects (genetic, e.g. PROP-1Pit-1genes): isolated TSH deficiency; multiple pituitary hormone deficiencies.

Clinical features

The symptoms and signs of acquired hypothyroidism are usually insidious and can be extremely difficult to diagnose clinically. A high index of suspicion is needed.

  • Goitre: primary hypothyroidism.
  • Increased weight gain/obesity.
  • Decreased growth velocity/delayed puberty.
  • Delayed skeletal maturation (bone age).
  • Fatigue: mental slowness; deteriorating school performance.
  • Constipation: cold intolerance; bradycardia.
  • Dry skin: coarse hair.
  • Pseudo-puberty: girls—isolated breast development; boys—isolated testicular enlargement.
  • Slipped upper (capital) femoral epiphysis: hip pain/limp.


Diagnosis is dependent on biochemical confirmation of hypothyroid state.

  • Thyroid function tests: high TSH/low T4/low T3.
  • Thyroid antibody screen. Raised antibody titres:
  • antithyroid peroxidase;
  • anti-thyroglobulin;
  • TSH receptor (blocking type).


  • Oral Levothyroxine (25–200 micrograms/day).
  • Monitor thyroid function test every 4–6mths during childhood.

 Monitor growth and neurodevelopment.