Thyroid Gland Disorders You Need To Know About

One of the best things about your thyroid glands is that when they’re working properly, you don’t even need to think about them. These tiny and wonderful organs do a whole lot of heavy lifting when it comes to keeping your body functioning like it’s supposed to.

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ at the base of your neck. It’s a key part of the endocrine system, and it’s responsible for helping maintain all kinds of important systems within your body, including your metabolism, digestion, brain development, heart function, and bone maintenance. It does all this by creating important hormones your body needs.

When it’s working as it should, the thyroid sails along undetected, happily keeping your body running along. When it doesn’t work as it should, however, you might experience a whole host of frustrating symptoms and issues.

Which hormones does the thyroid gland create?

The thyroid gland produces some very important hormones. Here are some you should know about:

Triiodothyronine

Triiodothyronine influences the majority of your body’s processes

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Thyroxine

Thyroxine regulates processes like heart rate, metabolism, and digestion

Calcitonin

Calcitonin regulates phosphate and calcium

Causes Of Thyroid Gland Disorders

Thyroid gland disorders can happen for no known reason, or they can be due to external circumstances or genetics. Many people who develop thyroid gland disorders have thyroid disorders that run in their families, as the issue is often hereditary.

Another common cause of thyroid issues in some parts of the world is iodine deficiency. The thyroid needs a certain amount of iodine to function properly. In the US, table salt and other foods are fortified with iodine to prevent health issues related to a shortage of the mineral. However, this is not the case in all regions of the world, and some people might find themselves short on iodine. There is also a slim chance of sparking thyroid issues by consuming too much iodine via the foods you eat, but this is very rare.

iodine, a cause of thyroid issues

Thyroid gland disorders can take some time to diagnose, often because the symptoms of the disorders could be applied to so many potential health issue.

What can happen to you when your thyroid doesn’t work properly?

There are two main categories of thyroid gland disorders – hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. (In some cases, you might even experience symptoms of both.)

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is what happens when the thyroid produces too many hormones. When your body has too many hormones in your bloodstream due to this, it’s called thyrotoxicosis. This can throw your body off its preferred stasis, and can lead to anxiety, heart palpitations, nervousness, mood swings, sudden weight loss, hair loss, and brittle nails. It can be frightening, especially at first, when you’re not sure what’s causing these unsettling symptoms. One of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism is Grave’s disease, which we’ll learn more about shortly.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is the opposite disorder of hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid does not produce enough hormones. It can lead to symptoms like tiredness, depression, trouble focusing, dry skin, weakness, weight gain, and other issues. One of the top causes hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, though there are also other issues that can cause hypothyroidism as well.

Common Thyroid Gland Disorders

Below are some of the most well-known thyroid disorders. You’ll want to keep them in mind if you ever need to speak with your doctor about thyroid issues or related symptoms.

doctor doing thyroid scan for thyroid issues

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Cause: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, is an autoimmune disease commonly linked to hypothyroidism. When you have Hashimoto’s, your immune system attacks your thyroid. As a result, the thyroid gland struggles to produce hormones and does not produce the amount that you need. The disease impacts more than 14 million people in the US, or 5 out of 100.

Effect: When you first develop Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, you might not experience symptoms right away. When they do surface, symptoms can include feeling extra tired, a dip in your mood, memory issues, weight gain, weight gain, or a change in your heart rate. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is sometimes accompanied by thyroid nodules or a goiter, which is an enlargement of the thyroid.

Treatment: Your doctor will often diagnose Hashimoto’s thyroiditis with the help of a blood test. Your doctor will likely assess the level of thyroid-stimulating hormones (TSH) in your system as well as check for antibodies that are attacking the thyroid. There is not currently a cure for Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but hormone-replacement medication can help manage your symptoms and better regulate your thyroid hormone levels. Sometimes your doctor will recommend surgery, but this is only in some case.

Graves’ Disease

Cause: When you have Graves’ disease, your immune system attacks your thyroid. This in turn causes your thyroid to overproduce hormones. (Unlike other autoimmune disorders, like Hashimoto’s, which do the opposite.) Graves’ is a very common cause of hyperthyroidism.

Effect: Graves’ disease can cause symptoms like a racing heart, anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping, sudden weight loss, goiter, and hair loss.

Treatment: Your doctor might notice physical symptoms of Graves’ disease – like bulging eyes, weight gain, an enlarged thyroid, and high blood pressure – at the outset of a basic exam. Your doctor can also check your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels for a more clear diagnosis. Your healthcare team might also conduct a radioactive iodine uptake test. (This monitors how quickly your body absorbs iodine, which assess whether it’s functioning as it should.)

Once you’ve been diagnosed, your doctor might prescribe antithyroid medication or radioactive iodine treatment, as well as beta-blockers which can help control symptoms like a racing heart. Occasionally, doctors will suggest thyroid surgery, but usually only after all other treatment options have been exhausted.

Goiter

Cause: A goiter occurs when the thyroid is physically enlarged. In some parts of the world, the most common cause of a goiter is iodine deficiency. In the US, iodine deficiency is rarely the cause, but hyperthyroidism can still lead to goiter nonetheless. It often goes hand in hand with other thyroid issues like Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.

Effect: A goiter can lead to a swelling of the front of the next where the thyroid sits. Depending on how large the thyroid has become, it can also cause difficulty swallowing, coughing, or trouble breathing.

Treatment: Your doctor will often be able to spot a goiter during a typical physical exam, and they might also conduct an ultrasound of your thyroid.. As is the case with most other thyroid gland disorders, your doctor will probably order a blood test. This can help them get to the bottom of what kind of thyroid disorder might be causing your goiter, and prescribe treatments accordingly.

Thyroid Nodules

Some nodules actually create hormones just like the gland itself does, which can lead to hyperthyroidism-like symptoms.

Cause: Thyroid nodules can also be caused by iodine deficiency. Thyroid nodules are often sometimes connected with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, but they can also occur with no warning or cause. Thyroid nodules or sometimes cancerous, but more often than not, they are benign.

Effect: Thyroid nodules can create hormones of their own, just like the thyroid itself does. When this happens, you could experience symptoms similar to hyperthyroidism, including heart palpitations, anxiety, sweating, and trouble sleeping.

Treatment: Thyroid nodules can be detected during physical examinations, CT scans, ultrasounds, or MRIs. Your doctor will likely also do a blood test and a scan of your thyroid. You may also experience a biopsy, which will be done to ensure that your nodules are not cancerous. If your thyroid nodules are causing symptoms, your doctor might suggest radioactive iodine therapy to shrink your thyroid nodules or prescribe thyroid medication.

Conclusion

Above all, thyroid gland disorders are usually very treatable. They can be stressful and overwhelming, especially when you’re first diagnosed, but they can be managed. You can go on to lead a life with zero or very few symptoms. It’s all about being sure to ask your doctor about anything that doesn’t feel right, and asking the questions that matter. Listen to your body, and if anything feels off, take action.

Sources:

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