Thyroid Disease: Symptoms, Causes, Diagnosis & Treatments

Editor's Note: This article has been recently updated with latest information and research studies.
 

Overview on Thyroid Disease

The thyroid butterfly shaped gland present at the front of your neck, just under your Adam’s apple. Wrapped around your windpipe i.e. trachea, it has two lobes attached by a central part called the isthmus. It is responsible for the consumption of iodine present in the human diet to create thyroid hormones which play a role in the regulation of your body’s metabolism and growth.

Thyroid disease has enough detail and depth to merit tens of pages but is broadly categorized into hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. It is also a widespread illness with some 200 million people affected by some type of thyroid disease. Treatable for the most part, if left unchecked it can have considerable adverse effects on the body. Much emphasis is laid on understanding its symptoms and causes by physicians so that people can successfully identify this problem early on and get it treated during its initial stages.

Types of Thyroid Diseases

  • Hypothyroidism (thyroid under activity) – this condition results from an underactive thyroid gland or due to malfunction of thyroid regulators which reduces thyroid hormone levels.
  • Hyperthyroidism (thyroid over activity) – this condition occurs due to an overactive thyroid or when the regulators cause the gland to produce excessive hormones.

Thyroid Disease Symptoms

The symptoms of hypothyroidism / hyperthyroidism are distinct from each other in most cases with a few exceptions that are common to both:

  • Hypothyroidism:
    • Slow, weak heartbeat
    • Weak muscles and constant tiredness
    • Sensitivity to cold weather
    • Dry and/or thick puffy skin
    • Poor memory and sluggish mental processes
    • Constipation
    • Goiter
  • Hyperthyroidism:
    • Forceful, rapid heartbeat
    • Tremors
    • Weak muscles
    • Loss in weight in spite of improved appetite
    • Anxiety, restlessness and sleeplessness
    • Intolerance to heat and profuse sweating
    • Diarrhea
    • Changes in the eyes
    • Goiter

Thyroid disease symptoms may vary from one patient to the next depending on several factors. In fact, people without thyroid disease may also experience some of these symptoms. The best way to make sure is to consult a physician.

Thyroid symptoms may vary by whether the thyroid glands are too much active or insufficiently inactive. Thyroid play a major role in human body. The disease is common and symptoms are shown due to over and under chart of thyroid glands. The thyroid glands main function is to produce hormones maintaining human metabolism. Sometimes thyroid disease lead to enlargement of glands swelling resulting in increase size in the organ.

Types of thyroid conditions vary as are the symptoms of thyroid. Most thyroid conditions are common and can be treated with medication.

List of Common Thyroid Symptoms

  • Nervousness and Tremor: The symptoms belongs to a hyperthyroidism group including agitation can identify the overall function of thyroid glands.
  • Mental Fogginess and Poor Concentration: It includes in both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism shows depress mood and sluggishness while hyperthyroidism deals with reduced concentration.
  • Menstrual Changes: Both has different effects on menstrual cycle while active hyperthyroidism has excessive bleeding, hypothyroidism has slow menstrual flow.
  • Feeling Bloated: Continuous distention of the abdomen caused by fluid retention is a signal that explain insufficient activeness of thyroid glands.
  • Racing Heartbeat: Palpation or having irregular heartbeats and increased heart rate is a symptom of hyperthyroidism.
  • Aches and Pains: Different types of aches and pains create thyroid problems.
  • Weight Gain: When the thyroid gland level is lower than normal then it creates a modest amount of weight gain.
  • High Cholesterol Levels: Hypothyroidism causes an increase in blood cholesterol levels.
  • Heat Intolerance: Hyperthyroidism cause people low resistance to heat tolerance to higher temperatures.
  • Feeling Cold: Coldness is found in under functioning thyroid.
  • Hair Fall: Loss of hair or hair fall can be either due to hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. However, hair will regrow once the thyroid has been treated.
  • Breathing Problems: Both hypothyroidism and goiter can cause breathing problems. Consult with your doctor immediately if you encounter this symptoms. A medical attention is necessary for an overdose of thyroid replacement drugs as it will become server difficulties in breathing.
  • Edema: Also known as fluid retention can occur when the process of fluid transportation slows down due to hypothyroidism. When the speed of transportation slows down, fluid accumulated to become edema. Symptoms of edema are swelling of ankle, feet, hands and arms. It can also cause puffiness on face.

Other Thyroid Symptoms

  • Thyroid Goiter: Too much soybeans, peanuts, cabbages interfere thyroid ability to produce iodine. Goiter appear as enlargement of thyroid glands and can be temporary without medical intervention or it can also be a symptom of thyroid condition that needs medical attention.
  • Dry Skin and Brittle Nails: Under thyroid may result in slow growing ridged and bitter nails and cold, pale and dry skin.
  • Numbness or Tingling in The Hands: Numbness occur to people with hypothyroidism.
  • Vision Problems: Thyroid eyes problems occur when an overactive thyroid disease known as Graves disease. In addition, it can also occur in hypothyroidism.
  • Diarrhea: When hyperthyroid lead to increase of gastrointestinal motility, it would not be able to reabsorb water as much as normal causing diarrhea.

Symptoms of Subacute Thyroiditis

Symptoms appear after a viral infection including mild to severe pain in thyroid glands, thyroid feels tender to touch, feeling of pain or discomfort when swallowing or turning of head.

Consult with your doctor when you are facing the above conditions. Immediate medical attention is required if you feel agitated, delirious and feverish with a rapid pulse. It could be that you are having thyrotoxic crisis, which is a complication of hyperthyroidism. One of the most fatal hypothyroidism is myxedema coma which you will feel intensely cold, drowsy and lethargic.

Thyroid Symptoms in Women

It is observed that insufficient activeness of thyroid hormones has a wide range of symptoms in women. It is found in the research that women are four times more likely to have hypothyroidism than men. In addition, women at and around the age of 50 are found to be contract hypothyroidism.

Women suffer from under activity thyroid glands can be found with the symptoms such as low blood pressure, muscle weakness, decreased sweating. Sleepiness and loss of sex drive. Similarly, carpet tunnel syndrome which caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

If untreated, the hypothyroidism can turn into a more severe conditions. Symptoms of serious illness are

  • Slow speech
  • Hoarseness of Voice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Thinning of eyebrows
  • Memory loss and confusion can be found in elderly

Similarly women with pregnancy suffering from hypothyroidism has symptoms of fatigue, dizziness, depression and problems with memory and concentration. Pregnant women with hypothyroidism may have miscarriage and babies with birth defects.

Numerous factors and symptoms as well as different types of thyroid disease are stated and explained. It is vital to understand the seriousness of the diseases and catch the symptoms early. Neglecting a symptoms can lead to serious illness in some cases to fatal.

Causes of Thyroid Disease

The causes of this condition can also be classified on the basis of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism:

  • Hypothyroidism:
    • Autoimmune thyroiditis, also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
    • Postpartum thyroiditis – when the gland gets inflamed after pregnancy
    • Silent thyroiditis
    • Acute thyroiditis
    • Resistance to thyroid hormones
    • Certain medications that affect the function of the gland e.g. Cordarone
  • Hyperthyroidism:
    • Graves’ disease
    • Toxic “hot” nodule
    • Toxic multinodular goiter
    • Intake of large quantities of iodine in diet
    • Medications that contain thyroid hormone
    • Hashitoxicosis

At this point, the definition of ‘goiter’ is in order. A goiter is simply the name given to an overactive thyroid gland which can indicate hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Although goiter not a direct indicator of which thyroid disease, it does warrant further medical examination.

How to Diagnose Thyroid Diseases?

Blood tests are usually conducted to confirm a suspected diseased thyroid gland in which thyroid stimulating hormone levels are used as a screening tool alongside T3 and T4 hormone serum levels. If these levels aren’t normal, further inspection of the patient is merited.

  • Imaging: Usual imaging techniques such as ultrasound of the gland, as well as radioiodine scanning / uptake are used to quantify the size of the thyroid as well as to check for a cancer. Ultrasonography aids in the determination of size and consistency of the gland whereas radioiodine scans (thyroid scans) help in the identification and diagnosis of thyroid nodules.
  • Biopsy: Biopsy is considered the best method for diagnosing a thyroid problem, especially when cancer is suspected. It involves using fine needle aspiration to extract thyroid tissue for examination. The procedure is simple to perform and completely safe.

How to Treat Thyroid Disease?

  • Medication: Thyroid medication, in the case of hyperthyroidism, reduces the release of thyroid hormone and treats the symptoms of the condition. In the case of hypothyroidism, artificial thy¬roid hormone is prescribed for daily intake to compensate for the reduced thyroid hormone levels. All thyroid medication should be consumed under the supervision and advice of a physician. In some cases, steroids, NSAIDs and other anti-inflammatory medication may also be used to treat the inflammation of the gland.
  • Surgery: Surgery can be used to take care of a choking thyroid gland, overactive nodule, goiter, or cancer. Part or all of the thyroid gland may be removed during the surgery.
  • Radioactive Ablation: This treatment is used to treat hyperthyroidism that does not respond to medication by destroying thyroid tissue by means of iodine labeled with a tracer. It is also used in conjunction with surgery to treat some types of thyroid cancer.
  • Alternate Medicine Therapy: This is a collection of non-conventional treatments to deal with thyroid disease which utilizes techniques such as acupuncture, herbs, moxa and requires several months to balance the endocrine system.
  • Herbs: Besides drinking teas, you should ingest herbs such as black walnuts or Irish moss and kelp to improve your hypothyroidism.
  • Bio-identical Hormones: People suffering from extreme forms of thyroid disease may be treated with bio-identical hormones that restore balance to their hormone levels.
  • Orthomolecular Medicine: This treatment uses large quantities of vitamins, amino acids, minerals and botanical extracts to repair your thyroid tissue. Examples include ginseng, royal jelly, Reishi, peony, astragulus, etc.
  • Animal Glandular Supplements: Those who are uncomfortable with artificial thyroid hormones can opt for all natural animal extracted T3 and T4 hormones. However, they aren’t preferred as much by doctors.

Self-care Tips

  • Maintaining a proper diet which focuses on seafood and dairy products that improve thyroid function, and avoids foods such as almonds, cauliflower, millet, pears, turnips, peaches, canola oil which reduce thyroid function is an excellent alternative treatment for keeping your thyroid healthy.
  • Working out for 40 minutes thrice a week is also recommended for optimum thyroid function.

Verdict

Thyroid disease is best kept at bay by following a healthy lifestyle and consuming adequate diet to promote the thyroid gland’s function. Because a diseased thyroid gland can have an impact on your overall wellbeing, you should report multiple symptoms of the condition immediately to your doctor to get it treated in its preliminary stages.

Thyroid

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Author

Expert Author : Dr. Ahmed Zayed (Consumer Health Digest)

Dr. Ahmed Zayed Helmy holds a baccalaureate of Medicine and Surgery. He has completed his degree in 2011 at the University of Alexandria, Egypt. Dr. Ahmed believes in providing knowledgeable information to readers. Other than his passion for writing, currently he is working as a Plastic surgeon and is doing his masters at Ain shams University.