Thyroid Guide – Thyroid Disorders: The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland that can be found just below the Adam’s apple. It produces thyroid hormones that are used for metabolism in the body. The growth and development of all the body tissues are dependent on the proper functioning of the thyroid gland. Problems arise if the thyroid gland is overactive or underactive. There are three common thyroid disorders. These are hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism and the thyroid nodules.
Hypothyroidism happens when the thyroid gland fails to produce an adequate supply of thyroid hormones. Common symptoms of this thyroid disorder are hair loss, dry skin, sluggishness, constipation and weight gain.
Hyperthyroidism refers to an overactive thyroid gland. In this case, the thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormones than what the body needs. When this happens, an individual may feel exhausted most of the time, lose weight excessively, experience palpitations and irritability.
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Thyroid nodules are lumps that grow in the thyroid which are mostly common and harmless. Only a small percentage of thyroid nodules are cancerous. One must undergo a biopsy to be further evaluated if the lump or tumor is benign or cancerous.
Not all people with thyroid disorders may notice and feel symptoms. Someone can even go on living without having any clue that they may be suffering from a thyroid disorder. It is best to consult a doctor should an individual feel any symptoms either related or not related to thyroid disorders. Thyroid disorders if left untreated may put one’s health and even life at risk.
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The basic goal of treatment is to return thyroid hormone levels to normal.
Hyperthyroidism makes the body work too fast because there is too much thyroid hormone in the blood. Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease occurs because of a problem in the body’s immune system: antibodies are produced that overstimulate the thyroid gland.
Patients who are hyperthyroid from taking too much thyroid hormone need only to have their dosage properly adjusted.
Patients whose hyperthyroidism is caused by transient thyroiditis usually do not require any of the treatments described below, since their condition gets better on its own.
Treatment for hyperthyroidism from Graves’ disease, toxic autonomously functioning thyroid nodule, or toxic multi-nodular goiter may include one or more of the following:
Radioactive iodine (I131)
Radioactive iodine shrinks an enlarged thyroid or toxic nodule or nodules that are making too much thyroid hormone. This treatment is safe and is widely used in adults with hyperthyroidism.
* Radioactive iodine (I131) is the treatment of choice for the majority of the endocrinologists in this country. It is an effective, simple, safe way to treat patients with Graves’ disease or other forms of hyperthyroidism. Patients often have fears and misconceptions about using radioactive iodine.
* Studies have been done since the 1940’s on patients receiving this treatment. Treated patients, their children, and their grandchildren do not have an increased incidence of cancer, leukemia, etc.
* There are no increased instances of birth defects in children born to mothers who have had this treatment and waited the recommended time before becoming pregnant. (Pregnancy should be avoided for at least six months after the treatment.) As a matter of fact, fertility is often restored to women whose infertility is due to hyperthyroidism. Treating the disease also lessens the chance of miscarriage.
* Pregnant women should not be given radioactive iodine for any reason. If a patient has any doubt as to whether she is pregnant, treatment (and testing) with radioactive iodine should be delayed.
* Hospitalization is not required in order to treat hyperthyroidism with radioactive iodine.
* Radioactive iodine treatment ablates the thyroid gland (turns it into something like a dried-up raisin). Patients wishing to avoid destruction of the gland should know that the thyroid gland frequently “burns out” within 15 years even without treatment.
* Radioactive iodine does not cause a person to gain weight. However, because Graves’ disease increases the metabolism, patients should keep in mind that they cannot continue to eat the way they did while hyperthyroid. Because of changes in the metabolism after hyperthyroidism is treated, many patients will gain weight . This weight can be lost through diet and exercise once the thyroid levels are normalized.
Antithyroid drugs, such as propylthiouracil (PTU) and methimazole (Tapozole®), are used in patients with Graves’ disease and, less commonly, in other hyperthyroid patients
In some cases beta-blocking drugs are prescribed to treat the symptoms of hyperthyroidism while waiting for one of the above treatments to work.
Your doctor will be able to discuss the benefits and risks of each treatment.
Many patients treated for hyperthyroidism become hypothyroid. They will need to take thyroid hormone pills for the rest of their lives. In addition, they will need to see their doctor at least once a year.
® Tapozole is a registered trademark of Jones Medical Industries.
The standard treatment for hypothyroidism is thyroid hormone pills. The pills provide the body with the right amount of thyroid hormone when the gland is not able to produce enough by itself. While the symptoms of hypothyroidism are usually corrected within a few months, most patients need to take the pills for the rest of their lives.
The preferred thyroid hormone for treatment is levothyroxine (T4). You should use only the brand-name that your doctor prescribes, since generic brands may not be as reliable. Name brand levothyroxine pills include Levothroid®, Synthroid®, Levoxyl®, and Eltroxin®.
Patients sometimes take more pills than they should, trying to speed up the treatment or lose weight. However, this can lead to hyperthyroidism, a disease in which there is too much thyroid hormone in the blood, and to long-term complications, such as osteoporosis. You should take the pills as your doctor prescribes.
At different times in your life, you may need to take different amounts of thyroid hormones. Therefore, you should see your doctor once a year to make sure everything is all right.
® Levothroid is a registered trademark of Forest Pharmaceuticals.
® Synthroid is a registered trademark of Knoll Pharmaceuticals.
® Levoxyl is a registered trademark of Jones Medical Industries.
® Eltroxin is a registered trademark of Roberts Pharmaceuticals.
Signs and symptoms of Hyperthyroidism may include:
- fast heart rate (100-120 beats per minute or higher)
- slightly elevated blood pressure
- nervousness or irritability
- increased perspiration
- muscle weakness (especially in the shoulders, hips, and thighs)
- trembling hands
- weight loss, in spite of a good appetite
- hair loss
- fingernails partially separated from finger-tips (onycholysis)
- swollen fingertips (achropachy or clubbing)
- retracted (pulled back) upper eyelids
- skin changes
- increased frequency of bowel movements
- goiter (an abnormal swelling in the neck caused by an enlarged thyroid gland)
- in women, decreased menstrual flow and less frequent menstrual flow
- in men, slight swelling of the breasts
- in Graves’ disease: thick or swollen skin over the shin bones (pretibial myxedema); eyes that seem to be popping out of their socket (exophthalmos).
Most of these conditions will return to normal after the hyperthyroidism is treated. Certain others may be treated separately.
Have more questions? Need more answers? Check our Full Thyroid FAQ
Autoimmune Thyroid Disorders
Autoimmune thyroid disorders are common and occur when the thyroid gland is being attacked by the immune system. This results in an abnormal functioning of the thyroid gland. In cases like autoimmune thyroid disorders, the thyroid gland is either underactive or overactive. Examples of autoimmune thyroid disorders are Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Autoimmune thyroid disorders are also more common in women than in men. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis occurs in women between the ages of 30 and 50. This disease may be inherited since it appears to have a genetic component. People over 50 years old who have hypertension are prone to develop an autoimmune thyroid disorder called Graves’ disease.
Thyroid Disorder Symptoms
Thyroid disorder symptoms often appear gradually, thus making it commonly misdiagnosed. Some people may not feel or notice any symptoms at all. Common thyroid disorders are hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism and thyroid nodules. Common symptoms for hypothyroidism are weight gain, constipation, heavy or abnormal menstrual flows, dry skin and hair loss. As for hyperthyroidism, an individual may notice and experience hair loss, excessive weight loss, frequent bowel movement and irritability.
Thyroid nodules are often ignored because most of the time, the lumps or tumors are benign. But one must not ignore these lumps or tumors since these may also be cancerous. Should one feel any of these symptoms, it is best to consult a doctor and seek medical help. Tests will be done to check one’s thyroid function and determine if these symptoms are caused by any thyroid disorder.
Thyroid Guide & Links to Related Articles
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Thyroid Hair Loss
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