How common is thyroid disease?
While approximately 20 million Americans are affected by thyroid disorders, only about half are ever diagnosed. Thyroid dysfunction is so prevalent however, that about one in every eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime.
What types of thyroid diseases exist?
The butterfly-shaped thyroid gland at the base of the neck is responsible for the body’s metabolism and energy. This gland sends hormones through the bloodstream to many organs throughout the body. While many thyroid conditions exist, two major thyroid disorders are most common, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too much thyroid hormone.
Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Diarrhea/frequent bowel movements
- Perspiration in excess
- Feelings of weakness
- Feelings of hunger
- Weight loss
Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism, affecting nearly 2.5 million Americans. This is thought to be an immune system disorder that runs in families.
Symptoms of Graves’ disease include:
- Rapid heart rate
- Feelings of nervousness
- Increase in perspiration
- Weakness in muscles
- Trembling hands
- Weight loss
- Loss of hair
- Changes in skin
- Increase in bowel movements
- Decrease in menstrual flow/less frequent menstrual flow
When the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone in the body, hypothyroidism can occur. This disorder, that slows metabolism, is more common with age, Hashimoto’s disease (immune system disorder) or inflammation of the thyroid gland itself.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Dry skin
- Pain in muscles
- Loss of hair
- Weight gain
- Puffy face
- Intolerant to cold temperature
- Dry, thin hair
- Decrease in perspiration
- Heavy/irregular menstruation
- Difficulty becoming pregnant
- Slower heart rate
Thyroid tumor—This is a noncancerous growth in the thyroid and may secrete large amounts of thyroid hormone.
Toxic multinodular goiter—The thyroid gland is enlarged with many noncancerous thyroid tumors. These secrete large amounts of thyroid hormone.
Thyroid cancer—This occurs when abnormal cells grow at an uncontrolled rate in the thyroid gland. In most cases, thyroid cancer is curable.
What are the causes of thyroid disease?
Hyperthyroidism, which “speeds up” the body when there is excess thyroid hormone in the blood is often caused by an immune system disorder that is inherited.
Hypothyroidism has several causes, including:
- Hashimoto’s disease
- Thyroiditis, subacute, postpartum, silent
- Congenital hypothyroidism,
- Surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid
- Radiation treatment of the thyroid
- Some medicines
- Pituitary diseases
- Iodine levels in the diet
What types of tests are used to detect thyroid disease?
A physician may initially examine the neck, feeling the thyroid gland for enlargement. If thyroid disease is suspected, an ultrasound to further view the gland may be ordered. Many doctors will also request a thyroid panel, made up of blood tests to help pinpoint thyroid disorders. Laboratory tests that measure levels of T4 and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) are fairly common. Some more naturally oriented physicians may also request tests that measure T3 levels.
How is thyroid disease treated?
Treatment depends on the type of thyroid dysfunction, as well as the phase or stage of the disease affecting the thyroid gland.
Drug therapies may include the following:
- Levothyroxine—hypothyroidism/large goiter
- Pain/inflammation relievers
- Corticosteroids, prednisone, dexamethasone
- Thyroxine—replace thyroid hormone—hypothyroidism
- Short-term beta blockers—hyperthyroid symptoms
Partial thyroid removal is used to relieve pressure.
These are to be used in addition to prescription medication, NOT instead of drug therapy for thyroiditis.
Foods to potentially lower thyroid activity if you have hyperthyroidism include:
Broccoli, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, kale, spinach, turnips, soy, beans, and mustard greens.
Avoid refined foods, sugar, dairy products, wheat, caffeine, and alcohol. Selenium has been found to help prevent thyroiditis in some individuals.
Physical movement may help improve thyroid function for both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Acupuncture may help correct hormonal imbalances as well as any underlying deficiencies and excesses relating to thyroiditis.
Therapeutic massage can help to relieve stress and increase an overall sense of well being.
Follow Up is Key
It is important to continue to follow up with a primary healthcare provider who monitors your thyroid function with frequent check-up’s and blood tests.
Your Own Piece of Mind
Don’t wait to be one of 10 million Americans who live with the symptoms of thyroid dysfunction every day and don’t know it. And if you’ve already been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, you can ensure treatment is working and your hormone levels fall within normal range, by simply ordering a thyroid assessment online.
Why leave your health in someone else’s hands? Take back your power today and get tested for thyroid function in the privacy of your own home.
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