The thyroid gland is situated in the neck in front of the trachea (windpipe), just below the larynx (voice box). It produces several chemical substances called hormones, which circulate round the body in the blood. These hormones, one of which is thyroxine, help to regulate the body’s energy level.
Thyroxine has a major influence on physical and mental development and on general wellbeing. This is because it helps to control the rate of chemical reactions in all the body cells. If the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) a person may be agitated and jittery, lose weight and suffer palpitations. If the gland is underactive (hypothyroidism) a person can become tired, overweight and generally sluggish with slow physical and mental reactions.
People with Down’s syndrome do sometimes have an overactive thyroid, but it is far more common among them for the gland to be underactive. We know that in 15 – 20% of adolescents with Down’s syndrome the thyroid gland is not working properly. Not enough thyroxine is produced to keep the body running at an optimum rate. These people benefit greatly from thyroid replacement therapy. This involves taking one or more tablets of a thyroid preparation every day.
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