Health

NOT FEELING LIKE YOURSELF LATELY? - You may have thyroid disease!

iMEDHealth

The word thyroid instantly draws attention to the neck region. Most people are acquainted with thyroid disease, but they don’t really know the purpose of the thyroid gland in the body. The thyroid gland is an endocrine gland situated at the front of the neck, below Adam’s apple. It produces thyroid hormones such as T3 (triiodothyronine), T4 (thyroxine) and calcitonin hormone, which plays a role in calcium homeostasis.

Functions of thyroid hormones:

Thyroid hormones have the following effects on the body:

  • Increase basal metabolic rate
  • Increase absorption by gut
  • Regulate gut motility
  • Influence appetite
  • Stimulate breakdown of fat into fatty acids
  • Increase heart rate and blood flow
  • Increase body temperature
  • Crucial in brain development during fetal life
  • Essential for growth in children

Thyroid disease

Abnormal function of the thyroid gland leads to thyroid disease. Thyroid abnormalities are one of the most prevalent endocrine disorders worldwide. According to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease and more than half of them are unaware of their condition. Women are more prone to develop thyroid disease. Data suggest that 1 out of 8 women will develop thyroid disease during her lifetime.

What causes thyroid disease?

The most common cause of thyroid disease worldwide is iodine deficiency, which may result in an underactive thyroid, enlargement of thyroid or mental deficits in children, whose mothers were iodine deficient during pregnancy. Other forms of thyroid disease are described below.

Common thyroid disorders:

The most common thyroid problems are:

Goiter

An enlarged thyroid gland is called a goiter. It is caused by a dietary deficiency of iodine. Research suggests that up to 200 million people worldwide are affected by goiter, and an incredible 800 million are iodine deficient. Depending on how large it becomes, a goiter can cause the following symptoms:

  • Compression of neck
  • Difficulty in swallowing
  • Difficulty in breathing
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Wheezing or coarse cough

Hypothyroidism:

When thyroid function is compromised, it leads to a condition known as hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. The production of thyroid hormones is reduced or the body is unable to utilize existing hormones. There are many conditions which cause hypothyroidism. Some of the most common ones are Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (inflammation of thyroid gland), post-operative hypothyroidism, medication induced and congenital (by birth) hypothyroidism. Following are the symptoms:

  • Weight gain
  • Increased sensitivity to cold
  • Fatigue
  • Hair loss
  • Dry skin
  • Irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Decreased heart rate

Hyperthyroidism:

As the name indicates, hyperthyroidism is over functioning of the gland. There is an excessive production of thyroid hormones. It is less common than hypothyroidism and affects only about 1% of women. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Grave’s disease, affecting up to 70% of people with a hyperfunctioning thyroid. Other causes may include a toxic thyroid nodule (or multiple nodules), and Plummer’s disease. Symptoms include:

  • Weight loss
  • Increased sensitivity to heat
  • Increased sweating
  • Tremors in hands
  • restlessness
  • Increased heart rate
  • Bulging eyes (seen in Grave’s disease)
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Brittle hair and nails

Tumors of thyroid gland:

Thyroid swellings or tumors can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant. Thyroid adenomas, for instance are benign swellings. A thyroid adenoma can be differentiated from a goiter, as it is usually solitary, confined, encapsulated and caused by genetic mutation. Whereas a goiter is multi-nodular, expands across the gland and is caused by iodine deficiency.

Thyroid cancer, like other thyroid problems, commonly affects women as well. It is the abnormal growth of thyroid cells or tissue and may spread to other parts of the body. The thyroid gland can sometimes be a secondary site of metastasis from other cancers. In this case, it is not primarily considered as thyroid cancer. If detected early, it has a good prognosis. Depending on size, symptoms may include:

  • Compression of neck
  • Difficulty in breathing and swallowing
  • Swollen glands
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Other non-specific symptoms of cancer such as weight loss, fatigue and loss of appetite

How can you be sure you have thyroid disease?

Well, many of the symptoms mentioned above are non-specific, hence can easily be dismissed as being a ‘regular’ part of a tough day. Visible signs such as lumps or swellings are more likely to catch your attention. Then, it’s easier to piece the rest of your symptoms together.

If you’re still doubting yourself, the only way to be sure is to see your primary physician, so you can get a complete thyroid panel performed. It is a blood test, used to evaluate levels of thyroid hormones, T3 and T4 as well have thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). These values will confirm a diagnosis of hypo or hyperthyroidism.

If you are unable to make time for a doctor’s appointment, then contact one online at mylivedoctors.com. You can choose from a list of expert physicians and share your problem with them. You can even show them your neck lump on video call, so they can guide you for the next step in treatment.

How do you treat thyroid disease?

Treatment and management depend upon the nature of the problem. For instance, thyroid medication or thyroid supplements, in the form of a synthetic thyroid hormone, levothyroxine is given as a daily dose for hypothyroidism. It is easily available by the name of Armour thyroid, but does require a doctor’s prescription. It helps to normalize the hormone levels.

Anti-thyroid medicines such as, propylthiouracil and methimazole are prescribed to treat hyperthyroidism. Significant improvement is seen after about 6-12 weeks, but treatment may be continued for a whole year.

Some people resort to alternative medicine for treating thyroid problems. For example, ashwagandha is an herb used in Ayurvedic medicine that has shown promising results for balancing thyroid hormones.

Goiters can be treated by administration of radio-active iodine. It is taken orally and reaches the thyroid gland by the bloodstream. Thyroid cells are destroyed thereby reducing the size. Larger goiters and cancerous swellings may be removed surgically, if required along with the affected lymph nodes and any infiltrated surrounding tissue.

So, if you haven’t been feeling like yourself lately, don’t blame it on work or stress. That ‘lump in your throat’ may be more than just emotions!

0 Comments

Add Comment