The Thyroid Foundation of Canada estimates that 200 million people in the world have some form of thyroid disease. While it can affect both genders, thyroid disorders are four to seven times more common in women.
The thyroid is a small gland located under the Adam’s apple in front of the neck. The thyroid gland produces and secretes hormones into the bloodstream, which play an important role in controlling such functions as body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and weight. An overactive thyroid can lead to hyperactivity, hand tremors and an irregular heart rhythm, while an underactive thyroid will often cause fatigue and sluggishness. This section provides you with up-to-date information about thyroid disease and the main types of thyroid conditions.
If you suspect that you have a thyroid condition, learn about the common symptoms, as well as the laboratory tests used for diagnosis. With several treatments available, thyroid disorders are for the most part able to be cured or managed.
The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly and is located under the Adam’s apple in front of the neck. While it only weighs about 20 grams, the thyroid gland produces and secretes thyroid hormones into the bloodstream that are essential to all growth and metabolism. The main hormones released by the thyroid are triiodothyronine, abbreviated as T3, and thyroxine, abbreviated as T4.
Thyroid hormones play an important role in controlling such functions as body temperature, heart rate, blood pressure and weight. An overactive thyroid can lead to hyperactivity, hand tremors and an irregular heart rhythm, while an underactive thyroid will often cause fatigue and sluggishness.
The most common problems that develop in the thyroid include:
Many health issues, such as autoimmune conditions, cardiac disease, reproductive difficulties, diabetes and arthritis are associated with a poor-functioning thyroid gland. Research has shown that early diagnosis and treatment can, in many cases, reduce the incidence or severity of these health issues.
Here are the main types of thyroid conditions:
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland fails to produce sufficient amounts of the thyroid hormones T4 and T3. When thyroid hormone level drops, cells throughout the rest of the body slow their activity causing symptoms that include fatigue, depression or weight gain. One of the most common causes of hypothyroidism is the autoimmune disease called Hashimoto's disease, in which antibodies gradually target the thyroid and destroy its ability to produce thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism can also occur if the thyroid is improperly formed at birth, all or part of the thyroid is surgically removed, or if the thyroid is damaged by radiation or certain medications.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland becomes overactive and produces too much thyroid hormone. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is the autoimmune disease known as Graves’ disease, where antibodies target the gland and cause it to stimulate and speed up hormone production. Symptoms most commonly associated with hyperthyroidism include nervousness, irritability, a racing heart, and excessive sweating.
A goiter simply refers to the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. The presence of a goiter does not necessarily mean that the thyroid is malfunctioning – just that there is a condition present that is causing the thyroid to grow abnormally. According to the xxx , one of the most common causes of goiter formation worldwide is iodine deficiency. The thyroid may also become enlarged due to conditions such as Hashimoto's disease, Graves' disease, or other thyroid imbalances.
A thyroid nodule is an abnormal growth of cells that forms a lump within the thyroid gland. While most are non-cancerous, a small proportion of nodules are cancerous. The majority of thyroid nodules do not cause symptoms or affect thyroid function. If they grow very large in size, they may cause symptoms of compression like difficulty swallowing or breathing.
Thyroid cancer is the most common cancer of the endocrine glands. It occurs when abnormal cells in the thyroid gland begin to grow uncontrollably, causing one or more nodules to form. Cancerous nodules can invade the tissues of the neck, spread to the surrounding lymph nodes, or to the bloodstream, and then to other parts of the body. For more information, see Thyroid Cancer.
When the thyroid becomes inflamed, due to bacterial or viral illness, this is known as thyroiditis. It can be acute occurring over a few days, subacute occurring over a few weeks or chronic occurring over several months to years.
Thyroid conditions most often cause your thyroid gland to underproduce thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), or overwork and produce too much of it (hyperthyroidism). Because the thyroid gland is a regulator of all body functions, the symptoms of thyroid problems are wide-ranging and may affect your mood, energy, body temperature, weight, and much more. Some of the most common signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are listed below.
Hypothyroidism symptoms include:
Hyperthyroidism symptoms include:
Because the symptoms of thyroid illness are quite variable and can often be mistaken for other conditions, a doctor should be consulted for a proper diagnosis.
If your symptoms indicate that you might have a thyroid condition, your doctor will do a physical examination of your neck. This will include feeling the thyroid to see whether the entire gland is enlarged and whether any nodules are present. However, it is not until your doctor takes a small sample of your blood that he or she can accurately determine whether your thyroid is functioning normally.
According to Harvard Health , the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) test is the single best screening test to diagnose thyroid disease. If the level of TSH circulating in your bloodstream is high, it means that your pituitary gland is sending a loud message to a failing thyroid that is not producing enough hormone, and you are hypothyroid. If TSH levels are below normal, you have too much thyroid hormone, and you are hyperthyroid.
Normally, this blood test is enough to confirm the diagnosis, but sometimes other thyroid function tests are required. These include the Free T4 (FT4) test, which measures the active part of the thyroxine hormone, and the Free T3 (FT3) test, which measures the active part of the triiodothyronine. Ocassionally, but not often, the thyroid antibodies test will be done, to check the cause and severity of the thyroid disorder.
There are several treatments for thyroid conditions. The best approach for you depends on the particular problem you have, your age, physical condition and the severity of your disorder. Treatment can include: