The thyroid is an important organ in the neck that is responsible for releasing thyroid hormones. These hormones manage metabolism in your body. Any fluctuations in these hormones can cause severe symptoms associated with metabolism. This is why, it is important to seek appropriate diagnosis and treatment for your thyroid conditions.
What is Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid disease is a broad term used to describe all issues of the gland, ranging from thyroid hormone fluctuations to cysts and nodules in the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland normally produces hormones that maintain the normal functioning of the body.
Types of Thyroid Disease
Although thyroid disease is an umbrella term for all thyroid conditions, it is mostly used to describe disorders of thyroid hormones. There are two main types of thyroid diseases:
- Hyperthyroidism: When the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, the body uses energy rapidly. This is what is known as hyperthyroidism. Expending too much energy too quickly can not only make you feel tired all the time, but also make your heart beat faster, lose excess weight, and even make you irritable.
- Hypothyroidism: Sometimes, the thyroid gland may produce too little of the thyroid hormone. This is known as hypothyroidism. Too little thyroid hormone in the body can also make you feel tired but unlike hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism causes weight gain, and even make you extremely sensitive to cold.
What Causes Thyroid Disease?
The causes of thyroid disease are dependent on the type of thyroid disease you are suffering from. The major causes of hyperthyroidism are:
- Graves’ disease: It causes the entire gland to be overactive, resulting in excessive hormone production.
- Nodules: They can present as a single nodule, known as toxic autonomously functioning thyroid nodules or multiple nodules, known as toxic multi-nodular goitre. These nodules can become overactive and cause hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroiditis: This condition changes symptoms from patient to patient. It refers to the inflammation of the thyroid gland, resulting in increased thyroid hormone production.
- Excessive iodine: Iodine is important for the production of thyroid hormones. If your body has excess iodine available, it will produce excess thyroid hormones.
The conditions that can cause hypothyroidism are:
- Thyroiditis: It can cause both excess and reduced thyroid hormone production.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: It is a hereditary, autoimmune condition that results in damage to the thyroid gland. The damaged gland cannot produce enough thyroid hormone, resulting in hypothyroidism.
- Postpartum thyroiditis: It is a rare and temporary condition that women experience after giving birth.
- Iodine deficiency: Lack of iodine in the body means that the body cannot make enough thyroid hormone. This causes hypothyroidism. It is important to manage iodine levels in the body.
- A non-functioning thyroid gland: This condition is present since birth and if left untreated, can cause physical and mental issues in the children. Due to severe complications of the non-functioning gland, it is mandatory for all newborns to undergo a screening test for thyroid hormones.
Who is at risk for Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid disease does not discriminate between different ages and gender. It affects men, women, children, and the elderly. Some people are more at risk for thyroid disease than others due to their geographical location, family history, occupational history, and so on.
- People with a positive family history of thyroid disease
- People with a medical condition such as pernicious anaemia, Type 1 diabetes mellitus, primary adrenal insufficiency, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and Turner syndrome. These conditions are often associated with thyroid disease and the presence of one usually results in thyroid disorders
- People who take certain medications such as amiodarone, which are high in iodine
- Women especially over 60 years of age
- People with a previous history of thyroid disease or a disease affecting nearby organs and requiring radiation.
It is important to pay extra attention to your thyroid health if you meet any of these criteria.
How to Diagnose Thyroid Disease?
Diagnosis of thyroid disease and proper thyroid treatment is made and prescribed by internal medicine doctors. They will need to take a detailed history including your family and occupational history to be on track to make the right diagnosis. The internal medicine doctors will then ask for blood tests to check your thyroid hormone levels and make the right diagnosis.
Further imaging and tests may be requested to properly diagnose the underlying cause for high or low thyroid hormone production in the body.
Thyroid Disease Treatment
The main aim of thyroid disease treatment is to manage thyroid hormone production and prevent any hormonal imbalance in the body. Even the smallest hormonal imbalance can be bad for the body. To keep thyroid hormone levels normal, one of the following treatments can be used.
- Radioiodine: It will destroy active cells in the gland to reduce the overall production of thyroid hormones.
- Beta-blockers: These work on managing the symptoms caused by the hormonal imbalance in the body.
- Surgery: This is a permanent solution to thyroid disease as it includes complete removal of the gland. No more hormones will form in the body but as a result of that, you will be required to take thyroid hormone replacement therapy for the rest of your life
The treatment options discussed above apply only to hyperthyroidism. The main treatment for hypothyroidism is the drug called levothyroxine. It is a thyroid hormone analogue and will help make up for the lack of natural thyroid hormone in the body.