More than 20 million Americans are affected by some form of thyroid disorder. A malfunctioning thyroid is a serious health issue that can cause major problems if left untreated. These are some of the most common thyroid disorders and symptoms you should watch for.
What Is the Thyroid?
The thyroid, located at the base of your neck, is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the expansive network of glands known as the endocrine system. That system is responsible for regulating many of your body’s internal activities. Despite its small size, the thyroid is a vital organ whose major functions include producing crucial hormones to regulate:
- Metabolic rate
- Heart and digestive function
- Muscle control
- Brain development
- Mood, and
- Bone maintenance
The Five Most Common Thyroid Disorders
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland overproduces the thyroid hormone thyroxine. Symptoms include:
- Racing heart
- Increased sweating
- Trouble sleeping
- Thin skin
- Brittle hair and nails
- Muscle weakness
- Weight loss
To test for the disease, your doctor will order a blood test to measure your thyroxine and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. A high thyroxine and low TSH level indicate an overactive thyroid.
Treatments for hyperthyroidism include medication to stymie hormone production or removal of the gland altogether. Your doctor may prescribe antithyroid agents such as methimazole or large doses of radioactive iodine to destroy overactive thyroid tissue. Surgery to remove your thyroid is also available, but keep in mind that you will likely develop hypothyroidism following destruction or removal of your thyroid.
2. Graves’ Disease
Graves’ disease is also an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the U.S., affecting about 1 in 200 people. The immune system’s attacks on the thyroid cause the gland to inflame and overproduce thyroxine hormones, eventually leading to an overactive thyroid. Symptoms include:
- Bulging eyes
- Altered menstrual cycle
- Excessive sweating
- Irregular heartbeat
- Hand tremors
Diagnosis can range from a simple physical exam to a blood or radioactive iodine uptake test. Like Hashimoto’s disease, there is currently no known cure for Graves’ disease, though there are several ways it can be managed, including:
- Beta-blockers to ease rapid heart rate, anxiety and sweating
- Antithyroid medications
- Radioactive iodine treatments
- Thyroid removal surgery
As with hyperthyroidism, successful treatment will likely result in hypothyroidism. If left untreated, Graves’ disease can lead to heart problems and brittle bones.
Hypothyroidism is the opposite of hyperthyroidism. The disease occurs when the thyroid gland is underactive and unable to produce enough thyroxine hormone. Symptoms include:
- Dry skin
- Increased cold sensitivity
- Memory lapses
- Weight gain
- Slow heart rate
Much like during a hyperthyroidism diagnosis, your doctor will perform blood tests to measure your TSH and thyroxine hormone levels. In this instance, a high TSH level and low thyroxine level indicate an underactive thyroid.
Treatment for hypothyroidism is limited to taking prescribed synthetic thyroid hormone (levothyroxine) pills. The correct dosage is crucial to ensure your body does not absorb too much of the hormone, which can cause symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
4. Hashimoto’s Disease
Hashimoto’s disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the U.S., affecting approximately 14 million Americans. This disease causes the immune system to attack and destroy the thyroid gland and inhibits its ability to produce hormones. Symptoms include:
- Mild weight gain
- Dry skin
- Dry, thinning hair
- Pale, puffy face
- Heavy, irregular menstruation
- Intolerance to cold
- Enlarged thyroid (goiter)
Following a blood test, your doctor will look for increased levels of TSH as well as low levels of thyroxine. Because Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder, your blood test will also show abnormal antibodies that may be attacking your thyroid.
There is currently no known cure for Hashimoto’s disease. However, hormone-replacing medication is often prescribed to raise thyroxine or lower TSH levels. When caught and treated at an early stage, patients remain stable for years as Hashimoto’s disease progresses slowly.
Thyroiditis is the swelling or inflammation of the thyroid due to iodine deficiency and fluoride, chlorine or bromine displacement. A gluten allergy, vitamin D deficiency or dysbiosis can also cause thyroiditis. There are a few variations of this disease, including:
Treatments and medications will vary based on which disorder — hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism — your symptoms align with.
Find Urgent Care When You Need It in Texas and Colorado Springs
At Complete Care, we treat ailments large and small. No appointments are necessary, so the moment you need professional medical help, we are here to accommodate you without the notoriously excessive wait times associated with traditional health care facilities.
If you suspect you may be dealing with a thyroid disorder or other endocrine problem, stop by any of our urgent cares or family practices for an evaluation. Contact us for more information about the care we can provide you and your family.