The thyroid gland belongs to the endocrine gland system. It produces hormones that regulate the physiological functions of the body, such as heart rate, sweating, energy consumed, etc. The thyroid gland is situated in the center of the lower neck region just below the larynx. It is shaped like a butterfly as the two lobes of the gland are joined together with a small tissue (isthmus). The diseases that affect thyroid gland are called as thyroid disorders.
What is a Thyroid Disorder?
Conditions that affect the production and release of hormones by the thyroid gland are considered as thyroid disorders. The most common conditions that lead to thyroid disorders include:
- Thyroid cancer
- Thyroid nodules
Let us see more about the causes, symptoms and treatment for these individual thyroid disorders in the following paragraph.
When the thyroid gland fails to produce enough hormones, it leads to hypothryroidism. This leads to low energy levels as the drop in hormone levels within the body reduces the amount of energy released.
Causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Hashimoto’s disease; an autoimmune condition where the body’s defense system attacks its own cells. This bombardment by the immune system over the gland causes it to die in the long run, leading to complete stoppage in production of thyroid hormones.
- Excessive exposure to iodine present in cold and heart medications, like amiodarone or contrast dyes injected for certain X ray procedures.
- Surgical removal of the thyroid gland to treat hyperthyroidism
Symptoms of hypothyroidism occur when the body functions slow down. The symptoms include:
- Mental depression
- Feeling cold
- Menstrual irregularities
- Dry skin and hair
- Weight gain
- Sluggish feeling
Treatment of hypothyroidism includes replenishing the needs of the body of thyroid hormone. Thus, one may be prescribed tablets or pills that contain thyroid hormone thryroixe. Some may have to take the medications for some period and some may have to continue with the medications for life.
When the thyroid hormones release more hormones than required it leads to hyperthyroidism. An overactive thyroid is commonly seen in women between the age of 20 to 40 years.
The causes of hyperthyroidism include:
- Graves’ disease. It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland causing it to produce too much hormones. It is common in people with a family history of hyperthyroidism. It often leads to swelling behind the eyes, leading to increased tearing within the eyes or eyes to bulge.
- Thyroid nodules
- Use of excessive medications to treat hypothyroidism
- Subacute thyroiditis leading to inflammation of the thyroid due to a viral infection
- Postpartum thyroiditis
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Trembling of the hands
- Rapid heartbeat
- Weight loss
- Muscle weakness
- Menstrual irregularities
- Diarrhea or frequent bowel movement
- Intolerance to heat
- Excessive sweating
- Irritability and anxiety
- Vision problems or eye irritation
Treatment of hyperthyroidism includes:
- Use of antithyroid drugs like methimazole that helps decrease the amount of hormone
- Beta-blockers that help control symptoms of hyperthyroidism like trembling, anxiety, rapid heart rate, etc.
- Radioactive iodine that destroys the thyroid hormone and the patient requires to live the rest of his/her life on thyroid hormone medications
- Surgery in case of presence of enlarged thyroid gland, thyroid nodules or cancerous thyroid gland.
Nodules are lumps or masses of tissue within the thyroid gland. These lumps can be benign cysts, tumors or may sometimes turn out to be cancerous growths. Iodine therapy or surgical removal of the benign or cancerous thyroid nodules is the usual treatment in this case.
The enlargement of the thyroid gland is called as goiter. The main cause of goiter is a deficiency of iodine in the diet. Goiter can affect anyone at any age.
The symptoms include:
- Swelling in the neck
- Breathing or swallowing problems
- Hoarseness n voice
Treatment includes administration of small doses of iodine. Use of radioactive iodine can help in shrinking of the gland. Goiter and hypothyroidism often occur together, thus their treatments are quite similar.
This was a bit about thyroid disorders. If you notice any unusual symptoms, speak to your doctor. The sooner thyroid disorders are detected, the easier it is to treat and cure them.
Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 01, 2015