Understanding Thyroid Diseases

The food we eat is converted into energy to run cellular processes and into building blocks for carbohydrates, proteins, lipids, and nucleic acid. This process is held out by a phenomenon known as metabolism. Metabolism is controlled by the thyroid gland, which is a small butterfly-shaped gland placed in the center of the lower neck, right under the voice box. The gland mainly produces two types of hormones namely, T4 and T3; which command the cells in the body to control metabolism. In other words, these hormones tell the body cells how much energy to use.

Coming to problems related to thyroid, there are essentially two main types of thyroid problems that occur when the gland overproduces or underproduces thyroid hormones. Overproduction of thyroid hormones leads to hyperthyroidism and underproduction of the hormones causes hypothyroidism:

1. Hyperthyroidism

When the overactive thyroid gland produces too many hormones and causes hyperthyroidism, a person can experience anxiety, nervousness, rapid heartbeat, excessive sweating, troubled sleep, and weight loss. One common cause of hyperthyroidism includes an autoimmune disorder, Grave’s disease. Grave’s disease causes the production of an antibody that provokes the thyroid gland to produce excess thyroid hormone. Another common cause is a multinodular goiter, that is tiny lumps in the gland that cause the gland to produce more thyroid hormones. Hyperthyroidism also occurs when there is inflammation of the gland, commonly known as thyroiditis, which is due to a virus or an issue with the immune system. Consuming excess iodine or medication that contains iodine can also cause the thyroid gland to overproduce the hormone leading to hyperthyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed upon a physical examination where the doctor determines the condition by looking at the symptoms. Apart from the examination, doctors also take a few blood tests to measure the thyroid stimulating hormone to confirm one of the two conditions. Doctors also take a thyroid scan and ultrasound to view the iodine content in the gland.

2. Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can be considered as the opposite of hyperthyroidism as in this condition, the amount of thyroid hormones is less than adequate. This leads to several symptoms like fatigue, weakness, weight gain, hair loss, depression, constipation, and abnormal menstrual cycles. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease, often leads to the condition of Hypothyroidism. This disease causes the immune system to produce antibodies that attack tissues of the thyroid gland. At times, treatments for hyperthyroidism can lead to hypothyroidism. Hyperthyroid patients are treated with radioactive iodine or antithyroid medications to balance the body. This sometimes leads to lowered production of thyroid hormones causing hypothyroidism. Removing a large portion of the thyroid gland due to cancer, a noncancerous enlargement of the gland or overactive thyroid can cause the thyroid hormone production to diminish. In such cases, the patient becomes dependent on thyroid hormone supplements for life. Some other causes of hypothyroidism that are less common include congenital diseases, pituitary disorder, pregnancy, and iodine deficiency.

Thinning of blood is often caused by hypothyroidism, thus, doctors often take blood tests to determine the texture of blood.