According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA) 20 million people in the United States suffer from thyroid disease. The ATA also predicts that 12 percent of Americans will develop a thyroid disease in their lifetime. The gland at the root of these statistics is the thyroid gland, a small, butterfly-shaped organ located in the front of the neck and wrapped around the trachea. Although small in size, the thyroid gland plays a critical role in your ability to function. The thyroid secretes hormones that control metabolism, which in turn regulates the process whereby food is turned into energy. The body uses this energy to keep all systems functioning correctly. But like all organs in our bodies, the thyroid gland is vulnerable to disease, especially as we age.
Types of Thyroid Disease
The hormones produced by your thyroid gland regulate metabolism so that your cells get the exact amount of energy they need. When your thyroid functions properly, your metabolism works efficiently and your hormones are replenish frequently. However, if your thyroid is unable to produce the right amount of hormones, you suffer from thyroid disease. If your body produces too little thyroid hormone you have hypothyroidism. If you are producing too much thyroid hormones, you have hyperthyroidism.
Both forms of thyroid disease are serious and require treatment by a physician. Although thyroid disease can occur at any age, it is more common in those over 60, especially women. You are also more susceptible if you have a family history of thyroid disease; or a medical condition such as Type 1 diabetes, adrenal insufficiency, lupus or rheumatoid arthritis among others. The following are some symptoms of thyroid disease you should be aware of.
Hypothyroid Disease Symptoms – Too Little Thyroid Hormones
When your thyroid gland fails to produce sufficient amounts of hormones, it’s called hypothyroidism. Diagnosing this disease can be difficult. If you are experiencing the following symptoms, you may not have noticed them or you may think they are part of natural aging. As hypothyroidism progresses, however, these symptoms will become more serious. You should consult your doctor if you notice any of the following conditions:
- More tired than usual
- More sensitive to cold
- Gaining weight though eating the same
- Face is puffy
- Muscles feel weak, or tender and stiff
- Heart rate has slowed – this is called bradycardia
- Skin and hair are becoming coarse
- Hair is thinning
- Voice is hoarse
- Experiencing constipation
- Experiencing heavy menstrual cycles
- Feeling depressed
- Having memory difficulties
Hyperthyroid Disease Symptoms – Too Much Thyroid Hormones
Hyperthyroid disease can also be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms often mirror other diseases. The following are symptoms of hyperthyroidism, but keep in mind that symptoms will vary from person to person. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should consult your doctor.
- Increasing feelings of hunger
- Losing weight without trying
- A faster than normal heartbeat or tachycardia, or an irregular heartbeat called arrhythmia
- Heart palpitations
- Trembling of your hands or fingers
- Feelings of nervousness – you are anxious and irritable
- Perspiring more than usual
- Increased sensitivity to heat
- In women – changes in your menstrual cycle
- More frequent bowel movements
- Swelling in your neck that indicates your thyroid gland is swollen – often called a goiter
- Tiredness and muscle weakness
- Difficulty sleeping
- Skin that’s warm and moist
- Hair that’s brittle and thinning
Causes and Impact of Thyroid Disease
Because metabolism impacts the body so profoundly – from the cellular level that you can’t see to your ability to perform daily tasks – the consequences of untreated thyroid disease can be profound. A malfunctioning thyroid gland can adversely affect anything from your daily energy level to your body temperature and heartrate.
In some cases, hypothyroid disease can lead to problems with muscles and joints without proper treatment. Seniors in particular, may mistake these symptoms for aging, or if they suffer from rheumatoid arthritis (RA), they may be experiencing additional pain caused by thyroid disease. With the right treatment, they may find their RA less painful. Here are some hypothyroid symptoms to watch out for:
- Aching, tenderness and stiffness in muscles
- Pains in any joints but especially hands and knees
- Small joints in the hands and feet may swell
- You may be suffering carpal tunnel syndrome
There are several medical conditions that can lead to hyperthyroid disease such as the following:
Graves’ disease: This is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. As a result the gland produces too much hormone. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism and can be inherited.
Overactive thyroid nodules: This is also called toxic adenoma, toxic multinodular goiter and Plummer disease.
Thyroiditis: This describes the actual inflammation of the thyroid gland. It is sometimes caused by an autoimmune disease, or the reason may not be clear. In any case, the inflammation causes the thyroid to produce excess hormones that often leak into the bloodstream causing hyperthyroid symptoms.
Too much iodine: Iodine is the mineral your thyroid gland uses to make hormones, so too much iodine raises thyroid hormone levels. Some medications such as amiodarone, which is a heart medicine, contain iodine and can cause hyperthyroidism. Iodine is also present in some cough syrups.
H2: Diagnosis and Treatment for Thyroid Disease
Thyroid disease is commonly diagnosed via blood tests specifically designed to detect abnormalities that signal either too much or too little thyroid hormones in your blood. Imaging may also be used to scan the thyroid gland and see if any abnormalities such as swelling or growths exist.
Your healthcare provider’s goal is to try and return your thyroid hormone levels to normal. He or she has several treatment options available and will identify a course of treatment based on your symptoms and other tests.
Treatment options for hyperthyroid disease can include the following:
Anti-thyroid Medication: Drugs such as methimazole and propylthiouracil are designed to stop your thyroid from making hormones.
Radioactive Iodine: This works by actually damaging thyroid cells so they can’t produce excessive levels of hormones.
Beta Blockers: These medications treat the symptoms from a malfunctioning thyroid gland. However, they don’t impact hormone levels.
Surgery: In severe cases, it may be necessary to remove the thyroid gland altogether. After surgery, you will be on thyroid replacement medication for the rest of your life.
The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is:
Thyroid Replacement Medication: There are currently synthetic thyroid hormones such as levothyroxine that allow you to function normally even if you have hypothyroidism or you’ve had your thyroid removed surgically.
You Can Live a Normal Life with Thyroid Disease
Thyroid disease can span your entire lifetime and requires routine management. However, it’s important to follow your healthcare provider’s instructions carefully to treat thyroid disease. He or she will likely want you to have periodic blood tests to ensure your thyroid disease is under control and to be able to adjust your treatment as needed. This will ensure that you can live a long and fruitful life without worrying about restrictions.
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