The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your throat along the windpipe, is one of the most important organs in the body. It creates and produces hormones that play a role in your metabolism, growth, development, and helps regulate many critical body functions by releasing a steady stream of hormones into the bloodstream. When the thyroid produces too much or too little hormone, this is known as a thyroid disease. Though there are many types of thyroid diseases, Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism are the most common. Thyroiditis and Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis are also commonly occurring, though less than other forms of thyroid disease. Here’s everything you should know about thyroid disease, what they are and how they’re treated.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck that sits along your windpipe. As part of the endocrine system, a system of glands responsible for releasing and stopping the release of hormones essential to proper bodily function, the thyroid controls the speed of your metabolism. Your metabolism works like a generator, transforming the food you consume into energy that allows your body to function properly. By creating two specific hormones – T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine) – the thyroid tells the body how much energy to use to control functions like heart rate, body temperature, digestion, breathing and more. All of this is regulated by the pituitary gland, a gland located in the center of your skull below the brain. The pituitary gland regulates thyroid function by sensing the lack of or high levels of thyroid hormones in your body and producing its own hormone – thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH – that tells the thyroid what is needed to get your bodily functions back to normal. When the thyroid releases too much or not enough of the hormones responsible for proper function, you can develop conditions called hypothyroidism (not enough hormone) or hyperthyroidism (too much hormone), both of which can affect your cardiovascular system, nervous system, digestive system, and reproductive system.
What is Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid diseases are very common with an estimated 20 million people who are affected by some type of thyroid disease, 60% of whom are unaware of their condition. Thyroid disorders can affect all ages and can be present at birth or develop as you age. Women are five to eight times more likely to develop thyroid disorders than men, with one in eight women developing a thyroid issue in their lifetime. Some risk factors for developing thyroid disease include:
- Having a family history of thyroid disease
- Having an autoimmune disorder now or previously, especially Type 1 diabetes
- Age and gender (women over 60 are at higher risk)
- Having a pituitary gland disorder
- Smoking tobacco
- Injury or trauma to the thyroid gland
- Taking medications that are high in lithium or iodine or receiving iodine contrast, such as that used in CT scans
While most thyroid diseases are life-long afflictions, they can usually be managed with medication and, less often, high-dose radioactive iodine treatments. In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the thyroid gland.
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone to regulate proper function in the body’s critical systems. Common symptoms include feeling cold when others do not, muscle weakness and joint or muscle pain, chronic fatigue, abnormal weight-gain, having an abnormally puffy face, developing a hoarse voice, feeling abnormally sad or depressed, or pale, dry skin and thinning hair.
What is Hyperthyroidism?
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much of the thyroid hormone and not enough of the thyroid stimulating hormone, causing your metabolism to speed up. Symptoms can include feeling hot when others do not, rapid or irregular heartbeat, trembling in hands and fingers, eating more than usual or weight-loss with same appetite, diarrhea or more bowel movements than usual, feeling abnormally anxious or nervous, or changes in eyes such as bulging, redness or irritation. In a rare form of hyperthyroidism known as Graves’ disease, a genetic autoimmune disorder estimated to affect only one percent of the population, the body’s disease-fighting immune system malfunctions causing swelling in the neck and protrusion of the eyes in about 30% of people with the disease. It is unknown why this happens.
What are Goiters?
A goiter occurs when the thyroid gland is enlarged and can cause difficulty swallowing or breathing, coughing, hoarse voice, and dizziness when raising arms. They are relatively common, affecting 5% of people in the United States. Goiters can be caused by Graves’ disease, thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, nodules, thyroid cancer, or pregnancy. There are different types of goiters including:
- Simple Goiters: These goiters develop when the thyroid gland tries to make up for the shortage in hormones by growing larger.
- Colloid Goiters (Endemic): These are caused by a lack of iodine.
- Nontoxic Goiters (Sporadic): The cause of a nontoxic goiter is usually unknown but may be caused by medications like Lithium. Nontoxic goiters are benign don’t affect thyroid function.
- Toxic Nodular or Multinodular Goiter: This type of goiter forms one or more nodules as it enlarges. Each nodule produces its own thyroid hormone, causing hyperthyroidism.
How are Thyroid Disorders Diagnosed?
Thyroid disorders are diagnosed by an evaluation of your symptoms, imaging studies, physical exams, and a range of other tests performed by your healthcare provider. An examination may be performed while you swallow, as swallowing makes it easier to see and examine the thyroid. Blood tests may be taken to measure your hormone levels and your TSH level, which will be higher accompanied by low thyroid hormone levels in hypothyroidism, or below normal with high thyroid hormone levels in hyperthyroidism. Your provider may also do imaging tests to examine thyroid size, shape or nodules, or an iodine uptake test to measure the amount of iodine that is being absorbed by the thyroid gland. These and other tests will determine any thyroid diseases or cancers that you may have and the treatments you may need.
How is Thyroid Disease Treated?
If you have hypothyroidism, the main treatment option is a thyroid replacement medication, used to regulate the thyroid hormones in your body.
If you have hyperthyroidism, treatment options may include:
- Radioactive Iodine Treatment to damage thyroid cells and prevent the gland from making high levels of thyroid hormones
- Anti-thyroid medication to stop the thyroid gland from making hormones
- Beta Blockers to manage symptoms
- Surgery to remove the thyroid gland – life-long thyroid replacement hormones would be required after thyroid removal
If you have goiters, treatment options are:
- Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism Medication (corticosteroids)
- Surgery to remove the thyroid
- Radioactive iodine
- Increasing or decreasing iodine intake
Though finding the right treatment option to manage your hormones might take some time, people with thyroid diseases can usually live life without many restrictions. With treatment, thyroid symptoms are manageable and allow those who are afflicted by thyroid disorders to lead relatively normal lives. If you find yourself experiencing any of the above, don’t hesitate to make your health a priority. At FirstMed Health and Wellness, we make your health a priority with preventative primary care and in-house specialist referral services. Take control of your health today – find out more at FMHWC.org or call (702) 731-0909 today to make an appointment.
Cleveland Clinic Professional, (2020, April 14). Thyroid Disease. Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8541-thyroid-disease
American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, (2021, January). FAQ’s Thyroid Disease. ACOG. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.acog.org/womens-health/faqs/thyroid-disease
Mayo Clinic Staff, (2022, June 14). Graves’ Disease. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/graves-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20356240#:~:text=Graves’%20disease%20is%20an%20immune,disease%20can%20be%20wide%20ranging.
Travers, C., (2022, July 18). Causes and Risk Factors of Thyroid Disease. VeryWell Health. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.verywellhealth.com/thyroid-disease-causes-4013368
Basina, M., M.D., (2019, December 12). What You Need to Know About Goiter. Healthline. Retrieved December 20, 2022, from https://www.healthline.com/health/goiter-simple
Category: Health & Wellness