The Thyroid and Autoimmunity in Children and Adolescents

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Anthony P. Weetman

School of Medicine and Biomedical Science, University of Sheffield, Sheffield, UK

Thyroid autoimmunity is the commonest disease process to affect thyroid function. The prevalence of thyroid autoimmunity increases throughout life, with a possible decline in frequency in the very old as a 'healthy survivor' effect. The mere presence of thyroid autoimmunity, as demonstrated by the presence of thyroid autoantibodies or focal thyroiditis, for example, does not equal thyroid disease, since the majority of people with focal thyroiditis do not become hypothyroid [1]. On the other hand, as far as we know the formation of thyroid-stimulating antibodies (TSAb) leads to Graves' disease in the great majority of subjects, even if in rare cases their levels may oscillate and be associated with a fluctuating clinical course. After a brief review of the basic immunological mechanisms which underlie autoimmune thyroid diseases, this chapter will focus on the comparatively few studies which have looked specifically at the pathogenic mechanisms in these disorders in children and adolescents, and then look at the autoimmune disease associations which have considerable clinical relevance to the management of such patients.

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