Your thyroid gland, located at the front of the neck, performs a very important function—secreting two hormones, T3 and T4. They help in metabolism, the process through which your food gets converted to the energy that your body needs. This whole process is regulated by your pituitary gland located at the centre of the skull.
What is Thyroid Disorder?
In thyroid disorder, your thyroid gland is unable to produce the right amount of hormones. This leads to various complications like raising your heartbeat, unexplained weight loss or weight gain, nervousness, inability to endure cold temperatures, so on and so forth. Broadly speaking, there are two types of thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Various risk factors, starting from genetic predisposition to health conditions like diabetes can up your risk of these conditions.
Types Of Thyroid Diseases
As already mentioned, there are two brad categories of thyroid disorders: Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism: This condition is denoted by a dip in the thyroid hormones in the blood. It occurs if one has an underactive thyroid gland. Typically, the symptoms include extreme fatigue, forgetfulness and confusion in thought process, and feeling cold among others.
Hyperthyroidism: In this condition there is an overdrive of the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4, thanks to an overactive thyroid gland. The common symptoms include profuse sweating, heat intolerance, irregular periods, unexplained weight loss, so on and so forth.
Symptoms Of Thyroid Disease
Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism have adverse affects on human body. The symptoms and signs of the condition can vary from person to person depending on the severity and type
Some of the common symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Extreme fatigue
- Forgetfulness and confusion in thought process
- Feeling cold all the time
- Repeated bouts of constipation
- Dry skin
- Bloating or fluid retention in the body
- Stiffness in joints and muscles along with aches and pains
- Excessive or prolonged menstrual bleeding
Some of the common symptoms of hyperthyroidism are:
- Sweating profusely
- Intolerance to heat
- Increased bowel movements
- Slight tremor in the limbs
- Rapid heart rate
- Unexplained weight loss
- Excessive fatigue
- Concentration problem
- Irregular menstrual cycle
- Irregular heart rhythms and even heart failure in the elderly.
- Changes in the skin
What Causes Thyroid Disease
Various health conditions can have a negative impact on the functioning of your thyroid glands. So, various can be responsible for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Diseases That Can Cause Hypothyroidism
Here are some ailments and conditions that can lead to low levels of thyroid hormones.
Hashimoto's disease: It is an auto immune disease that attacks the tissues of the thyroid gland.
Thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid gland that can result in less production of thyroid hormones. New moms are likely to suffer from this condition. However, in their case, it is a temporary condition.
Iodine deficiency: A diet low in iodine has been seen to be a major cause of hypothyroidism in adults. It is noticed that areas that have low sources of iodine have more number of people suffering from this condition.
Malfunctioning of the other important glands in the system: At times one might have a perfect healthy thyroid but can still suffer from the problem of hypothyroidism, if the glands that regulate the function of thyroid go haywire.
Another factor that can trigger hypothyroidism is treatment for hyperthyroidism. Drugs and radioactive treatments administered for overproduction of thyroid hormones can lead to abnormally low levels of these chemicals.
Risks Of Thyroid Disease
Starting from age and gender, there are various factors that can up your risk of thyroid disorder. Here, we guide you on them:
Gender: Women are more likely to be affected by thyroid disorder than men. Some estimates suggest that the risk of the female population is about five to eight times more than men while it comes to getting any thyroid disorder.
Genetic predisposition: Family history of thyroid diseases is also a potential risk factor.
Medical conditions: People with diabetes (high blood sugar levels) are more likely to be vulnerable to thyroid disorders. Other health conditions that can make you fall in the high risk group include anaemia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, so on and so forth.
Age: People above 60, especially women, are more likely to be affected by thyroid disorders.
Medicines: Drugs high in iodine can also increase your chances of thyroid disorders.
Diagnosis of Thyroid Disease
The symptoms of a thyroid disorder can be confusing as they are similar to many other diseases. Your doctor may start with a physical examination which involves checking your neck for abnormal growths and enlarged thyroid glands. If he suspects a problem, he may suggest the following tests:
Various blood tests can be recommended to diagnose a thyroid disorder.
Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH): This is the first and foremost blood test for any irregularity in your thyroid hormones, T3 and T4. TSH, secreted by the pituitary gland, helps you maintain the balance of these two hormones produced the thyroid glands. While hypothyroidism is linked with elevated levels of TSH in the bloodstream, hyperthyroidism is associated with low production of this hormone. Normal TSH range for an adult: 0.40 - 4.50 mIU/mL (milli-international units per liter of blood).
T4: Low levels of this hormone in the blood indicate hypothyroidism, whereas high levels of T4 levels signal hyperthyroidism. Normal T4 range for an adult: 5.0 – 11.0 ug/dL. (nanograms per deciliter of blood)
T3: Insufficient amount of T3 in the blood is associated with hypothyroidism while higher levels are linked to hyperthyroidism. Normal T3 range: 100 - 200 ng/dL (nanograms per deciliter of blood).
Your doctor may also suggest additional blood tests like thyroid antibodies to diagnose autoimmune thyroid conditions, calcitonin (a hormone) and thyroglobulin (proteins made in the thyroid cells). While calcitonin level in the blood diagnoses rare thyroid disorders like C-cell hyperplasia and medullary thyroid cancer, thyroglobulin detects thyroid gland inflammation.
Your physician may suggest imaging tests like thyroid scan and ultrasounds to check the shape and size of the thyroid gland. They can also help him figure out any abnormal growth around the gland.
Treatment for Thyroid Disease
The aim of the treatment is to restore balance of the thyroid hormones. Here is a low-down on the various options your doctor may resort to:
Anti-thyroid drugs: These are medications that inhibit the function of your thyroid gland. They are used for hyperthyroidism.
Radioactive iodine: This method works by damaging your thyroid cells. This prevents the thyroid gland from making hormones. Radioactive iodine therapy is used as a curative measure for hyperthyroidism.
Beta blockers: They function by controlling the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
Surgery: The aim of surgical intervention is to inhibit the production of thyroid hormones when your thyroid gland over produces them. It is required in severe cases. A surgery may be done by conducting either an incision on the neck or on the armpit. Doctors may also go for a robotic surgery. This will necessitate lifelong hormone replacement therapy
Thyroid replacement medication: Used for hypothyroidism, this is a drug therapy where the medicine makes up for the low production of thyroid hormones in your body.
Reduce Your Risk of Thyroid Disease
There is no way to prevent thyroid disease. However, some lifestyle choices can help you reduce the risk of this hormonal condition or delay its progression.
Make sure that you are not deficient of iodine: This is one of the key elements of your thyroid hormone. If your diet is deficient of iodine, your body won’t be able to produce sufficient levels of this hormone. Look for foods and supplements that fulfil the recommended daily allowance of iodine: 150 mcg/day.
Quit Smoking: Cigarettes are loaded with a chemical thiocyanate, which can be potentially harmful for your thyroid gland, making you vulnerable to thyroid disorders.
Reduce your exposure to toxins: There are various chemicals found in various products of daily use. They can damage your thyroid gland. For example, triclosan, in some antibacterial soaps and toothpastes, BPA, in food packages and the nonstick coating on your pans are potentially harmful for your thyroid gland.
Limit your soy intake
If you go overboard on soy, your thyroid gland won’t be able to produce thyroid hormone sufficiently. Avoid soy powders, supplements, and milk. Experts suggest that you use it in fermented form (for example, tofu) and not as a primary source of protein.