For example, if you or any first-degree family members (parents, siblings, children) have any autoimmune disease -- or autoimmune thyroid problems such as Hashimoto's disease or Graves' disease in particular -- your children do face an increased risk of developing an autoimmune thyroid condition.
Autoimmune thyroid disease can show up at any time during childhood, but is more common during puberty, and is more common in girls than boys.
In addition to the familiar risk associated with autoimmune disease, there are a number of other trigger factors and risk points where children can be affected by thyroid symptoms and issues.
For example, a small percentage of newborns suffer from congenital hypothyroidism at birth. These infants require proper treatment to avoid lifelong complications and cognitive impairment. Congenital hypothyroidism results from either an improperly formed gland, or as a result of antithyroid medications ingested by the mother during pregnancy.
During pregnancy and after birth, fetuses and newborns face the risk of thyroid problems in mothers who have been improperly or poorly treated Graves' disease and hyperthyroidism.
Fetuses, infants and children are also at risk of developing thyroid problems -- including nodules, hypothyroidism, and thyroid cancer -- as a result of radiation exposure. Children's thyroid glands are especially sensitive to the detrimental effects of radiation. This radiation exposure is typically a result of radiation-laden medical procedures (i.e., x-rays, or contrast scans) undergone by their mothers while pregnant, or by environmental exposure -- such as the Chernobyl or Fukushima nuclear disasters of past years.
It's estimated that 5 to 10 percent of thyroid cancers are due to genetic or hereditary factors. This means that children are at risk if there is thyroid cancer or other endocrine cancer in the family, or family members test positive for genetic mutations -- like the RET mutation, or there is a family history of multiple endocrine neoplasia (MEN).