We hear a lot about thyroid disorders these days. What are the symptoms? How dangerous are they? What can be done?
What is the thyroid gland and what does it do?
It helps to know a little anatomy. The thyroid gland is found in the middle of your neck. It produces hormones that regulate how your body uses and stores energy. Thyroid hormones influence virtually every organ system so its role is very important to your health.
What causes a thyroid disorder?
Most thyroid disorders occur because of a problem in the thyroid gland itself, although certain medications and diseases can also affect thyroid function. Anyone at any age can develop a thyroid disorder but women are more likely to develop symptoms.
Three most common thyroid problems
Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
Symptoms of hypothyroidism range from the dramatic to the unnoticeable
- Weight gain
- Dry skin and hair
- Heavy menstrual periods
- Slowed thinking
Overactive thyroid (Hyperthyroidism)
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism
- Rapid heart beat or palpitations
- Feeling hot
- Weight loss
- More frequent bowel movements
- Shorter or lighter menstrual periods
- Sensitivity to heat
- Increased perspiration
Thyroid nodules (lumps in the neck)
While nodules are usually harmless, about 4 percent are cancerous, so further testing is needed. This is usually accomplished by fine needle aspiration biopsy, a simple test your doctor can do in his or her office.
Seek diagnosis and treatment if you're experiencing symptoms of a thyroid disorder
Thyroid disorders can be serious if untreated, so any suspicion of thyroid problems needs to be confirmed promptly your doctor. Untreated cancers and low and high thyroid hormone disorders can be fatal. Treatment of a thyroid disorder will depend on what type of thyroid disorder you have and what symptoms you are experiencing.
If you have symptoms of hyperthyroidism, your doctor may prescribe medicine (beta blocker) to lower your heart rate and reduce any tremors you may be experiencing. Since the symptoms of hyperthyroidism may be temporary, your doctor may lessen the dose of this medicine as your symptoms improve. Anti-thyroid medications and radioactive iodine and surgery are the treatments of choice.
For hypothyroidism, your doctor may prescribe hormone replacements to restore your body's hormone levels and shift your metabolism back to normal. It can take several tries to get the right dose. In some cases, the symptoms will improve over time and your doctor will slowly taper your dose of synthetic thyroid hormone.
Treating thyroid pain
If you have thyroid pain related to inflammation, your doctor may recommend a mild anti-inflammatory medication like aspirin or ibuprofen. If your thyroid pain is related to cancer or goiter, your doctor will need to evaluate the best course of treatment. In some cases, severe thyroid pain may require steroid therapy.
Thyroid disorders during pregnancy
Pregnant woman should be especially wary since thyroid disorders can develop during pregnancy. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are treatable in pregnancy. If you are on hormones already, then you should receive frequent monitoring during pregnancy.
Get thyroid lumps tested
The bottom line is this: Thyroid lumps ALWAYS need further testing so be sure to see your heath care provider right away if you have a lump or other symptoms of a thyroid disorder. Sometimes a simple blood test can detect the problem.