The Most Common Thyroid Problems & Diseases
Thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland present in front of your neck, which extends towards the sides of the throat. It releases and controls thyroid hormones that are vital for the body functions – metabolism, growth and development of the human body. Any malfunction in how the thyroid gland works, leads to disruption of body functions.
The most common thyroid problems are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. These two main disorders can be caused by various medical conditions. It may also be passed down in the family to next generations.
Common Thyroid Diseases
Hypothyroidism (Underactive thyroid)
In this condition, your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones. Symptoms are often unnoticeable and develop slowly over time. However, without proper medical attention, it can lead to several other issues in the long run, such as joint pain, obesity, infertility and heart disease.
Hypothyroidism commonly affects middle-aged and older women; however, anyone can develop this condition, including infants.
Hypothyroidism symptoms include the following:
- Weight gain
- Numbness and tingling sensation in your hands
- Soreness throughout the body
- Muscle weakness
- High cholesterol levels
- Hair loss/thinning of hair
- Needing more sleep
- Inability to concentrate
- Cannot tolerate cold temperatures
- Dry skin
- Puffiness in the eyes and face
- Your voice becomes hoarse
- Decrease in sexual libido
- Frequent or heavy menstrual periods
- Goitre (enlarged thyroid gland that is visible)
- Slower heart rate
Hyperthyroidism (Overactive thyroid)
It is a health condition, where your thyroid gland produces excess thyroid hormones (hence called overactive). It is a serious health condition that is fatal, if left undiagnosed or untreated. It is more common in women and people above the age of 60.
Thyroid hormones control the way the body uses energy, this means nearly every organ in the body is affected by them. With too much release of the thyroid hormone, many of the body’s functions speed up.
Hyperthyroidism symptoms include the following:
- Weight loss despite an increased appetite
- Accelerated heart rate or palpitations
- Hand tremors, muscle weakness
- Nervousness, irritability, anxiety
- Sleep difficulties
- Sweating or trouble tolerating heat
- Frequent bowel movements
- An enlargement in the neck, called goitre
- Changes in menstruation, including scantier flow and increased cycle length
Symptoms can vary from person to person.
Causes of Thyroid Problems
Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be caused by other conditions that affect the way thyroid gland works.
Conditions that can cause hypothyroidism:
- Thyroiditis: Thyroiditis is an inflammation (swelling) of your thyroid gland. It mostly affects young women and middle aged women, however, anyone can get it.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: It is an autoimmune condition, one of the primary causes of hypothyroidism. This is an inherited condition. This occurs when your immune system destroys your thyroid gland cells leading to less production of hormones. It can also cause goitre, a condition where the thyroid gland enlarges. It is a painless disease.
- Postpartum thyroiditis: This is a temporary condition and occurs in some (5% to 9%) women after childbirth.
- Diet low in iodine (Iodine is used by thyroid gland to produce hormones)
- Congenital hypothyroidism (This condition exists by birth)
- Previous thyroid surgery
Conditions that can cause hyperthyroidism
- Grave’s disease: It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, which occurs due to an abnormality in the immune system. Woman are eight times more likely to have this condition than men. It is common in middle age, although children and adolescents can also be affected.
- Overactive thyroid nodules: In this condition, the nodules are overactive within the thyroid. A single overactive nodule is called a toxic autonomously functioning thyroid nodule, and a gland with multiple overactive nodules is called a toxic multinodular goitre.
- Thyroiditis: Thyroiditis is an inflammation (swelling) of the thyroid gland. This disorder can be painful or not painful at all.
- Excessive iodine: Too much iodine in the body can cause the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones.
Diagnosis of Thyroid Diseases
Thyroid diseases can take some time to be diagnosed, as the symptoms overlap with those of other conditions. However, there are some specific tests that help diagnose the type of the disease and the status of the thyroid function.
Upon examining and understanding your symptoms, your healthcare provider will use the following tests to diagnose the disease:
- Physical exams: Your healthcare provider will physically touch your neck to check for any growths or enlargement of thyroid.
- Blood tests: These tests are used to diagnose hypo- or hyperthyroidism, along with the associated conditions that caused them. These blood tests include:
- Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH)
- T4 (thyroxine)
- FT4 (Free T4 or free thyroxine)
- T3 (Triiodothyronine)
- FT3 (Free T3 or free triiodothyronine)
- Thyroid antibodies
Treatment for Thyroid Diseases
Treatment of Hypothyroidism
Thyroid replacement medication: An underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is treated by taking daily hormone replacement tablets. These drugs are synthetic (man-made) and used as an unnatural way of adding thyroid hormones back into your body.
Treatment for Hyperthyroidism
Controlling and preventing thyroid to make more hormones is achieved by the following ways:
- Anti-thyroid drugs: These medications help your thyroid gland to stop making more hormones.
- Radioactive iodine: This treatment damages the cells of your thyroid that prevent it from making high levels of thyroid hormones.
- Beta blockers: These medications do not influence the production of hormones, but help in the management of symptoms.
- Surgery: Surgery is used to remove the thyroid gland permanently. This procedure is called thyroidectomy. Since, thyroid hormones can no longer be produced, you will need to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of your life.
Frequently Asked Questions
Is it safe for me to exercise, if I have been diagnosed with hypothyroidism?
Yes, it is safe to exercise
Is pregnancy safe with hypothyroidism?
Untreated or inadequately treated hypothyroidism is associated with an increased risk of miscarriage.
What foods should I avoid if I have hyperthyroidism?
A person with hyperthyroidism should avoid eating excessive amounts of iodine-rich foods, such as:
- Iodized salt
- Dairy products
- Iodine supplements
- Egg yolks
Gleneagles Global Health City is one of the best hospitals for lifestyle-based management of diseases in Chennai. Request an appointment now with one of the best endocrinologist in Chennai.
Dr Aafrin Shabbir
M.B.B.S, M.D (Internal Medicine)
Department of Internal medicine and Diabetology