Thyroid Disease

The thyroid gland, found at the base of the neck, is part of the endocrine system. Specifically, this gland is responsible for manufacturing hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism.  When there is too much (hyperthyroidism) or not enough (hypothyroidism) production of these hormones, several disorders can occur.

 

 

Hypothyroidism

 

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland under produces hormones needed for the body to run properly. In the early stages, noticeable symptoms may not occur, but with time, health issues such as obesity, joint pain, infertility, and heart disease can arise.  Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is often the cause of hypothyroidism but thyroid removal surgery or radiation damage can also lead to the disease. 

 

Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

 

  • Fatigue

  • Sensitivity to cold

  • Dry skin

  • Memory problems

  • Depression

  • Weight gain

  • Constipation

  • Weakness

  • Slow heart rate

  • Coma

 

In order to diagnose hypothyroidism, a person’s doctor will measure TSH and thyroid hormone levels in your blood.  This shows whether or not the thyroid is underactive.  The main treatment for this disease is thyroid hormone pills.  Proper dosage is critical since taking too much can cause hyperthyroidism symptoms.  

 

 

Hyperthyroidism

 

Hyperthyroidism is the condition of an overactive thyroid gland that produces too much of its hormone.  The most common form of hyperthyroidism is known as Graves’ disease with nodules on the thyroid also causing hormone overproduction. 

 

Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

 

  • Racing heart

  • Restlessness

  • Irritability

  • Increased sweating

  • Nervousness

  • Shaking

  • Anxiety

  • Brittle hair and nails

  • Sleep difficulties

  • Thin skin

  • Weight loss

  • Muscle weaknes

  • Bulging eyes

 

Blood tests and radioactive iodine tests can be performed in order to diagnose hyperthyroidism.  Treatment options include taking antithyroid drugs to lessen the production of hormones, taking large doses of radioactive iodine to damage the gland, or surgery to remove the gland altogether.  It is important to note that treatments for hyperthyroidism may lead to the development of hypothyroidism. 

 

Goiter

 

Goiter refers to a noncancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland.  This is most commonly due to iodine deficiency in a person’s diet.  However, goiter can also be caused by and a symptom of hyperthyroidism.  Goiters can affect anyone but are most common in women over the age of 40 or those who have a family history of thyroid disorders. 

 

Goiter symptoms include:

 

Usually goiters alone aren’t cause for concern, but if left untreated, they can cause serious complications such as difficulty breathing and swallowing.  A person’s doctor will perform certain exams and tests in order to get a proper diagnosis.  Goiter is usually treated only when the disorder becomes concerning enough and is causing problematic symptoms.  If goiter is due to a lack of iodine, small doses of the mineral can be taken. Surgery can also be an option in removing all or part of the thyroid.     

 

Thyroid nodules

 

Growths that form on or in the thyroid gland are known as nodules.  It is unclear as to why these nodules form but often seem to have a connection to iodine deficiency as well as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.  A small percentage of nodules turn out to be cancerous but most are found as being benign.  Nodules are more common in women than men and can be solid or filled with fluid.

 

While most nodules do not cause any symptoms, if the nodule begins to produce thyroid hormone, it can cause symptoms that mimic those of hyperthyroidism:

 

  • Increased pulse rate

  • Nervousness

  • Tremors

  • Weight loss

  • Increased appetite

  • Clammy skin

 

It is also possible for the nodules to cause symptoms similar to those of hypothyroidism:

 

  • Weight gain

  • Fatigue

  • Dry skin

  • Hair loss

  • Cold intolerance

 

  Thyroid nodules can be found during routine physical exams, as well as during an ultrasound, CT scan, or an MRI.  Once detected, tests will be administered to check for hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism and cancer.  More likely than not, nodules are benign and therefore aren’t life-threatening and do not need treatment.  It is possible to use radioactive iodine to shrink the nodules if needed.  If it is found to be cancerous, removing the thyroid is usually the recommended treatment option.  Radiation and chemotherapy may also be needed.  

 

 

Thyroid cancer

 

Cancer of the thyroid gland is the most common type of cancer of the endocrine system.  In the early stages, there are no signs or symptoms of cancer.  As it progresses, a person may experience:

 

  • A cough

  • Lump in the throat

  • Pain in the throat and neck

  • Hoarseness

  • Trouble swallowing

  • Swelling in the neck

 

A variety of tests and exams can be performed when diagnosing thyroid cancer.  A patient and their doctor will determine what treatment protocol to follow based on the type of cancer and if it has metastasized.  Surgery is the most common approach to treating thyroid cancer which then requires the patient to take oral supplements to replace the thyroid hormones. 

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