Childhood growth and development is a tumultuous process under the best of circumstances. Even kids who reach all the developmental milestones at the appropriate times can find that the road to maturity is a bumpy one. However, for kids with hormone disorders that affect their health and the manner and rate at which they grow and mature, this period can be especially turbulent.
The good news for this young patient population and their parents in our community is that they can now get the specialized treatment and guidance they need from pediatric endocrinologist Parul Patel, MD, of Mercy Health - Children’s Hospital Diabetes Care and Endocrinology.
“As a pediatric endocrinologist, I specialize in all things hormone-related, and primarily see kids with problems related to hormone excess or hormone deficiency,” says Dr. Patel. “Kids who are on the small side or too tall for their age, those experiencing delayed or early puberty, those with too much or too little thyroid hormone, and those with diabetes are examples of the patients in my ‘wheelhouse.’”
Among the many aspects of her job that Dr. Patel finds fulfilling is when she’s faced with a challenging case and has to go into medical detective mode. “I love looking at all the pieces of the puzzle and then figuring out how they fit together so I can help the family understand what’s going on. It’s extremely rewarding to see their relief when their child’s problem takes a 180-degree turn,” she states.
Dr. Patel also emphasizes that kids aren’t just little adults, which is why a pediatric endocrinologist’s role is so important in addressing hormonal issues in childhood and adolescence. She observes, “There’s a lot happening in the childhood phase, including puberty, and there are very specific problems during growth and maturation that a pediatric endocrinologist can uniquely address.”
Of course, not all problems affecting children and adolescents stem from a hormone excess or deficiency, so a big part of a pediatric endocrinologist’s job is to use good listening skills to determine, for example, why a young patient is unhappy with his or her height or the way things are going in school. Guiding them through that awkward period may be a simple matter of helping them understand what’s going on with their body.
As with any health concern, treatment outcomes for hormonal disorders in children tend to be most favorable when the problem is detected early. Kids’ primary care physicians are an excellent first line of defense when it comes to early detection of many hormone-related health issues, such as being too short or too tall than expected for their age. However, parents can play a big part as well by watching for certain signs and symptoms in their children.
For instance, a child who is suddenly drinking a lot more water, urinating very frequently, and getting up repeatedly at night to urinate may be exhibiting early signs of diabetes. The same applies to a child who was once toilet trained but is now having accidents. “Parents often catch these signs over the holidays when kids are home from school and they notice that ‘Jimmy’ is going to the bathroom every ten minutes or drinking water by the gallon,” Dr. Patel says.
Parents should also be on the lookout for behavioral changes in their kids, such as a former “A” student who is now unable to focus and is having difficulty sleeping. These behavioral signs, along with certain physical symptoms such as palpitations and diarrhea, can indicate hyperthyroidism—an excess of thyroid hormone. If parents observe any of these symptoms, they’re encouraged to discuss their concerns with their child’s primary care physician, who can then refer the child to a pediatric endocrinologist if appropriate.
Dr. Patel is thrilled to be part of the Mercy Health - Children’s Hospital Diabetes Care and Endocrinology team and thankful that she can put her expertise into action helping young patients and their families. “With this program, Mercy Health is providing a service that can benefit many families in our area. I love what I do, and Im so grateful for the opportunity to give families the guidance they need during a very challenging phase of life, she says. ❦