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Thyroid disease 101: Early diagnosis and treatment are key to preventing serious complications

Posted February 01, 2021 by James Salem, M.D.

Elderly woman getting her thyroid checked at the doctor

The thyroid gland has an important job to do in the body. It produces thyroid hormones that help regulate metabolism and the body’s overall temperature. Metabolism is a process that turns food into energy, which is vital to keeping all of our body systems working correctly. This small, but mighty gland impacts just about every area of the body, including heart function, digestive function, muscle control, mood and brain development.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck, wrapped around the windpipe. It’s part of an intricate network of glands called the endocrine system.
The hormones created and released by the thyroid tell the body’s cells how much energy to use to regulate the body’s functions. When a thyroid is working correctly, it maintains the right amount of hormones to keep your metabolism working at the correct rate. When a thyroid isn’t working correctly, it can impact your entire body and cause several disorders to arise.
The good news is most thyroid problems can be well managed if they are properly diagnosed and treated. Summa Health discusses risk factors, symptoms and treatment for the two most common thyroid diseases: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Read on because early detection and treatment are crucial to preventing serious complications.

Risks for developing thyroid disease

It’s estimated 20 million people in this country are suffering from a thyroid disease, according to the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid disease can affect anyone, but women are up to eight times more likely than men to develop problems.
Thyroid disease can be present at birth or develop as you age. It is hereditary or can be caused by other medical conditions that impact the way your thyroid gland works.
You could be at a higher risk for developing thyroid disease if you:
  • Have a family history of thyroid diseas
  • Have an underlying medical condition, such as anemia, diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or Turner Syndrome
  • Are older than 60, especially women
  • Have cancer
  • Take medications high in iodine
Diabetes, especially Type 1 diabetes, can put a person at a higher risk for developing thyroid disease.

Two main types of thyroid disease

Thyroid disorders can range from a harmless goiter (or enlarged gland) that needs no treatment at all to life-threatening thyroid cancer. However, the two most common thyroid problems involve the abnormal production of thyroid hormones. Both conditions are serious and require medical attention.
If your thyroid is overactive and produces too many hormones, your body uses energy too quickly and you can develop hyperthyroidism. This can be dangerous because it can cause your heart to beat faster and weight loss without trying. If left untreated, it can lead to serious heart, bone and other problems.
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by other diseases that impact the way the thyroid gland works. Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder associated with eye problems, is one of the main causes of hyperthyroidism. Excessive iodine or overactive nodules also can cause the condition.
If your thyroid produces too little hormones, your body is functioning on lower energy levels and you can develop hypothyroidism. This condition can cause extreme fatigue, muscle weakness and weight gain.
Hashimoto thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease where the body’s cells attack and damage the thyroid, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Iodine deficiency, a non-functioning thyroid at birth and inflammation of the gland also can cause the condition.


Thyroid disease symptoms

There are a variety of symptoms for thyroid disease. Be aware, however, they can be similar to several other medical conditions, which can make it difficult to know if your symptoms are due to thyroid problems or something else entirely.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism:
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Weight loss
  • Anxiety, irritability and nervousness
  • Enlarged thyroid gland
  • Muscle weakness or tremors
  • Irregular menstrual periods or menstruation stops altogether
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Vision problems or eye irritation
Symptoms of hypothyroidism:
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequent or heavy menstrual period
  • Dry or course hair, hair loss
  • A hoarse voice
  • Intolerance of cold temperatures

Thyroid disease diagnosis and treatment

To diagnosis a thyroid disease, your doctor will perform an evaluation starting with a complete family history and physical exam. From there, usually a blood test is used to measure the levels of thyroid hormones to determine if there is a problem. Depending on the issue, an ultrasound or other imaging tests may be ordered.
To treat hyperthyroidism, treatments are aimed at blocking the thyroid from producing hormones.
Antithyroid drugs can be used to prevent the thyroid from producing hormones. In addition, a doctor may give you a large dose of radioactive iodine in pill form to damage the gland and stop it from producing hormones. In some cases, surgery to remove the gland altogether may be performed.
The main treatment for hypothyroidism is to take thyroid hormone-replacement medication.
Though thyroid disease cannot be prevented in many cases, you can avoid serious complications from the disease through early diagnosis and following your treatment plan.
If you believe you may be suffering from a thyroid issue, schedule an appointment with a Summa Heath endocrinology physician to discuss your symptoms by calling 800.237.8662.


James K Salem, MD

James K Salem, MD

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