The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck below the Adamís apple. It is in charge of making and storing hormones that play a role in metabolism, organ function affecting the heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, cholesterol level, body weight, energy level, muscle strength, skin condition, menstrual regularity, memory, the rate at which food is converted to energy and many other conditions. It also helps children grow and develop. In order to perform these functions, the thyroid utilizes iodine (a mineral found in food and iodized salt) taken from the bloodstream and concentrates it within the gland.
You have a higher risk of developing thyroid disease if, among a variety of factors:
The causes of most thyroid problems are not known, however, they may include inheritance, infection, immune disturbances, injury and radiation. There are many common disorders of the thyroid including disorders of thyroid function, such as hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, and hyperthyroidism as well as disorders of growth, such as thyroid nodules.
- You have a family member with a thyroid problem
- You have another pituitary or endocrine disease
- You or a family member have another autoimmune disease
- You've been diagnosed with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
- You've been diagnosed with Fibromyalgia
- You're female
- You're over 60
- You've just had a baby
- You're near menopause or menopausal
- You're a smoker
- You've been exposed to radiation
- You've been treated with lithium
- You've been exposed to certain chemicals (i.e., perchlorate, fluoride)
The most common thyroid disorder results from an under active thyroid gland, or hypothyroidism. This results when the thyroid fails to produce enough hormones. Less frequently, an overactive thyroid condition, or hyperthyroidism. This occurs when there is too much thyroid hormone in the blood.
Thyroid nodules are a type of growth that may be non-cancerous (benign) or cancerous (malignant).
Thyroid cancer is uncommon, accounting for just 1% of all cancers in the United States. The National Cancer Institute estimates that in 1997 about 16,100 Americans will have been diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Less than 1% of these people with thyroid cancer, or 1,230 people, will die from this disease. Thyroid cancer occurs more often in women than in men.
When the thyroid is not working properly, it can lead to a variety of long-term complications. Thyroid disorders can affect a patient's cardiovascular system, reproductive system and other major organs.
Signs & Symptoms
A common sign of hypothyroidism from an underactive thyroid goland is a lack of energy or fatigue. Unfortunately, many people attribute their fatigue solely to lifestyle pressures and demands without thinking that there might be a medical reason for it.
Some of the most common ones are:
- Intolerance to cold
- Weight gain
- Decreased appetite
- Menstrual irregularities
- Dry skin
- Yellowish skin
- Coarseness or loss of hair
- Slow reflexes
- Lack of coordination
- Difficulty remembering and thinking clearly
- Trouble concentrating
- Decreased fertility
- Muscle pain
- High cholesterol
- Slowed heart rate
- Myxedema (fluid build-up in tissues)
However, these symptoms do not necessarily indicate that a person has thyroid disease. Other medical conditions can also produce these symptoms.
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Palpitations/tachycardia of the heart
- Heat intolerance/increased sweating
- Weight loss and weight gain
- Increased appetite
- Frequent bowel movements
- Muscle weakness
- Thyroid enlargement (depending on cause)
- Swelling of the lower legs (with Graves' disease)
- Difficult or labored breathing with exercise
- Light menstrual period
- Decreased fertility
- Mental disturbances
- Menstrual irregularities
Thyroiditis is an inflammation often marked by pain, tenderness, redness, warmth, and swelling in the neck. Fever may be present. The gland may be enlarged, firm, and hard, or rubbery to the touch. is an inflammation often marked by pain, tenderness, redness, warmth, and swelling in the neck. may be present. The gland may be enlarged, firm, and hard, or rubbery to the touch.
Again, other medical conditions can also produce these symptoms. Scientists do not believe that radiation exposure causes this condition.
Thyroid nodules may be either benign or malignant. Persons who have thyroid nodules may notice an enlarged thyroid or small lumps on the thyroid. Other symptoms may include tenderness in the neck near the thyroid, difficulty in swallowing or hoarseness. However, most people with thyroid tumors feel well and don’t have any noticeable symptoms. As can be seen, thyroid diseases do not always have symptoms that an individual can readily identify. If you are concerned about thyroid disease or are noticing any unusual symptoms, you should talk with your health care provider about your concerns. Your health care provider can do a physical exam of your thyroid and may order other tests to see if your thyroid is working normally. He or she might arrange a schedule for you to return for regular exams. When diagnosed early, thyroid disease can be effectively treated.
Thyroid disorders can be detected with a simple blood test. If you are experiencing any of the symptoms related to thyroid disorders, ask a physician about getting a TSH test to ensure that your thyroid gland is operating efficiently.
Generally speaking, If properly treated, patients with thyroid disorders lead normal, active lives.
Thyroid Foundation of America: www.allthyroid.org 1-800-832-8321
The Thyroid Society for Education and Research - 1-800-THYROID or 1-800-849-7643