Did you know?
- 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
- Women are 5–8 times more likely to develop thyroid disorders than men.
- Undiagnosed thyroid disorders put one at an increased risk of cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis and infertility.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), more than 12% of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. Women are at an increased risk of developing thyroid disorders soon after pregnancy and when they reach menopause. Currently more than 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and up to 60% of those with thyroid disorders are not even aware they have one.
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is located at the base of the neck. The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system, which helps coordinate many bodily functions and activities. It produces thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which regulate the body’s metabolism (the process of creating and using energy).
Several different disorders can arise when the thyroid gland malfunctions. Here are 5 of the most common thyroid diseases, and the signs and symptoms of each.
Also known as underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormone. According to Mayo Clinic, the symptoms vary depending on the severity of the hormone deficiency. The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Increased sensitivity to cold
- Dry skin
- Puffy face
- Thinning hair
- Heavier than normal or irregular menstrual periods
- Slowed heart rate
Hypothyroidism is a lifelong condition that cannot be cured, but the symptoms can be controlled with pharmacotherapy. Since the symptoms of hypothyroidism are not very characteristic, it is best to get tested. Doctors may order the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) blood test, which is a reliable method to detect hypothyroidism. When hypothyroidism remains untreated, symptoms can gradually become worse and complications can arise.
Also known as overactive thyroid, hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine. This can accelerate a person’s metabolism and can result in:
- Sudden weight loss
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Graves disease. Both men and women can get Graves’ disease, but according to the Department of Health and Human Services, it affects women 20–30 years old much more often than men. Grave’s disease causes generalized overactivity of the entire thyroid gland, although the exact reason why this happens is still unknown.
There is no single treatment option for patients with hyperthyroidism, as different factors such as age and the severity of hyperthyroidism influence treatment options. It is best to consult with a doctor or an endocrinologist to determine the best course of treatment.
A goiter occurs when the thyroid gland becomes abnormally enlarged. However, the presence of a goiter does not necessarily mean that the thyroid gland is malfunctioning. A goiter can occur in a person that has hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, but it most often occurs when there is an increase in thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), a pituitary hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland to produce T4 and then T3. This occurs as a response to a defect in normal hormone synthesis within the thyroid. A goiter should not be confused with thyroid nodules.
Thyroid nodules are an abnormal growth of thyroid cells that result in a lump in the thyroid. According to the ATA, majority of thyroid nodules are benign (non cancerous); however, a small proportion can become cancerous.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, most people with thyroid cancer present with asymptomatic thyroid nodules. There are four different types of thyroid cancer, but the papillary type is the most common and usually has a very good prognosis.
The most common symptom of thyroid cancer is a lump in the neck that may cause problems when swallowing. Thyroid cancer is the 8th most commontype of cancer in the U.S. However, it is usually very treatable with surgical removal and/or radio-iodine.
According to the NIH National Cancer Institute, the following are risk factors for developing thyroid cancer:
- Between age 25 and 65
- Previous radiation to the head and neck region
- History of goiter (enlarged thyroid)
- Family history of thyroid disease or thyroid cancer
If you think you may have one of the conditions above, or concerned about any symptoms, connect with a doctor for a consult and lab work up. At HealthTap, doctors are available for you 24/7 to answer any question you may have.
Author: Simitha Singh Rambiritch