If you’ve suddenly lost or gained a significant amount of weight, it’s likely that the first thing you’ll be told to check on is your thyroid. In fact, a malfunctioning thyroid can be to blame for these occurrences and a host of other health issues.
In this post, we’ll explore what exactly a thyroid is and what it does for our body; we’ll examine the most common thyroid conditions and the symptoms associated with diagnosing them; and discuss the treatments available if you suspect you may have a problem with your thyroid.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the neck, which makes two hormones (thyroxine and triiodothyronine) that travel through the bloodstream. Those hormones, known as T4 and T3, respectively, assist the body in using energy by influencing the metabolism of your body’s cells.
If everything is in balance, the thyroid is a wonderful tool to help keep the body healthy. If the secretion levels are off, however, a variety of negative conditions can result.
Common Thyroid Conditions
There are a few different ailments caused by a malfunctioning thyroid, and they are more often seen in women than men. Here are the most common thyroid conditions:
- Hypothyroidism is what happens when an insufficient amount of thyroxine is produced to meet the body’s needs. Those who suffer from this may experience symptoms such as weight gain, swollen joints, poor concentration, depression, exhaustion and the sensation of feeling cold.
- Hyperthyroidism is what occurs when an excessive amount of thyroxine is made. The symptoms of this are opposite from hypothyroidism in that patients may feel anxious, experience weight loss and have an intolerance for heat. If left untreated it can cause infertility, joint pain, obesity and heart disease.
- Thyroid Eye Disease commonly impacts those who have Graves’ disease, an auto-immune disorder that causes an overactive thyroid. It is the result of the tissue and muscles behind the eye becoming inflamed. The symptoms for this are swollen eyes and eyelids.
- Thyroid Cancer is the most serious thyroid condition, but thankfully also the most rare. Symptoms of thyroid cancer include vocal changes, neck lumps, swollen lymph nodes and difficulty swallowing.
Common Treatments for Thyroid Conditions
The first step in learning if you have a thyroid condition is seeking the proper diagnostic tests.
- A TSH Blood Test will indicate how much TSH you have. TSH is a pituitary gland hormone that regulates the thyroid’s production of T4 and T3. If your levels are found to be abnormal, additional tests will commence to determine the cause. Specific T4 and T3 Blood Tests can shed light on exactly what you are lacking or have too much of by way of hormones. Certain medicines and contraceptives can affect these levels, so doctors will take that into consideration when analyzing the results. A Thyroid Antibody Blood Test can help determine whether or not an autoimmune disorder such as Graves’ disease is present.
- An Ultrasound takes images that are used to closely examine the thyroid nodules on your neck. It is a painless procedure that can help determine if the nodules are likely to be cancerous. A Thyroid Scan involves a small amount of radioactive iodine injected into your vein and a small camera taking images following the injection. This procedure helps determine the cause of hypothyroidism and detect thyroid nodules that produce too many hormones.
- A Radioactive Iodine Uptake Test involves swallowing liquid iodine or an iodine capsule and then having a gamma probe measure how much iodine your thyroid takes from the blood. A Biopsy, used only when a lump is present, is used to determine whether or not the lump is cancerous.
Once you know what type of thyroid condition you have, your medical professionals will determine the best course of treatment.
- Hypothyroidism is commonly addressed with medicines that can provide the hormone levels your body needs. They are safe to use and simple to incorporate into a normal daily routine.
- Hyperthyroidism can either be treated with medicines that block the effects of thyroid hormones on the body or radioiodine, which kills the thyroid cells that make the hormones. In more serious cases, surgery to remove the thyroid may also be an option.
- Thyroid Eye Disease, depending on its severity, this can be treated with everything from cold compresses to eyelid surgery. Lubricating eye drops, the wearing of sunglasses and other minor modifications to normal eye health may also help reduce symptoms.
- Thyroid Cancer can also be treated with radioiodine or surgery. Before either of these options are explored, it’s likely that the nodules will be watched for a period of time to determine what treatment is necessary and to confirm the presence of cancer.
Talk to a doctor for more information
If you suspect that you have a thyroid condition, make an appointment with the Western Washington Medical Group Endocrinology Practice. They can consult, diagnose and treat a variety of endocrine disorders. Or, for more general healthcare information, complete the form on this page.