Thyroid disorder is a far more common health issue today than many patients realize. According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), an estimated 12 percent of adults will develop some type of thyroid disorder during their lifetime.
While approximately 20 percent of the population is likely affected by some degree of thyroid disorder, researchers estimate that up to 60 percent of affected individuals are unaware that it is the thyroid causing their health symptoms! While thyroid disorders tend to affect women more frequently than they do men, the risk is sufficient that all adults need to be aware of symptoms and watchful to avoid serious health complications from unaddressed thyroid disorder.
About the Thyroid
The thyroid is a small gland that is often described as looking like a butterfly in its shape. It is located just underneath the Adam’s apple in the lower center portion of your neck.
The thyroid is a major center for endocrine system activity in your body. It has lots of jobs to do, one of the most important of which is secreting hormones that regulate your metabolism. The thyroid’s function affects the entire endocrine system and your whole body’s health and well-being.
Types of Thyroid Disorder
Hyperthyroidism is a condition where the thyroid secretes more hormones than your body needs.
Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid isn’t secreting enough hormones for your body to function optimally.
Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, can be triggered by a number of issues. In many cases, the underlying cause is a condition called Graves’ disease. Graves’ disease takes its name from Sir Robert Graves, who discovered the condition.
This disease is related to malfunctions of the autoimmune system, specifically because the body’s immune system mistakenly sees the thyroid as a threat and begins to attack it. Attacks cause the thyroid to secrete more hormones than your body can use.
Other causes of hyperthyroidism can include nodules on the thyroid which can lead to an enlarged thyroid, which is called a goiter.
Hyperthyroidism is not as common as hypothyroidism, but symptoms are often overlooked in the early stages or chalked up to other possible causes. In younger patients, onset can sometimes be severe.
Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, can also be caused by a number of factors. Perhaps the most common cause of hypothyroidism is called Hashimoto’s disease. Hashimoto’s disease is sometimes called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis.
Hashimoto’s disease, like Graves’ disease, is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body’s immune system to attack the thyroid gland. This attack slows down hormone production, leading the body to develop a number of health symptoms.
Other possible causes for hypothyroidism include damage to the thyroid gland, surgery to remove part or all of the thyroid gland (such as with thyroid cancer), exposure to radiation, iodine imbalance, genetic or congenital causes medicines and inflammatory thyroiditis (often viral).
Hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism and often initial symptoms can be quite subtle. As symptoms worsen, it can feel like hypothyroidism has happened “all of a sudden,” because at first it can be tempting to explain away symptoms like fatigue and weight gain as being caused by other issues.
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism are linked to the overabundance of thyroid hormone being secreted into your body.
Common symptoms include sweating, weight loss, anxiety, irritability, racing heartbeat, insomnia, muscle weakness and tremors, thinning skin and brittle hair and bursts of energy followed by great fatigue. Chronic diarrhea is uncommon but possible.
Some patients will also have an enlarged thyroid, called a “goiter,” develop that may or may not be accompanied by swelling, bulging eyes.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
Symptoms of hypothyroidism are caused by underproduction of essential hormones the thyroid gland is responsible for producing.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, trouble staying warm, dry skin, depression, memory issues, constipation, weakness, slow heart rate and a puffy, pale look in the face and body.
Some female patients may experience menstrual irregularities related to low thyroid function.
Treating Thyroid Disorder
Often the most challenging aspect of treating thyroid disorder begins when patients put two and two together, realize they have been feeling unwell for some time and approach their doctor to ask for help!
Because symptoms of both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can easily be mistaken for other health issues, especially in the early stages, this can cause delays in properly diagnosing thyroid disorder and beginning treatment.
The good news is that many effective treatments are available for thyroid disorder. Evaluation and diagnosis often begins with a patient exam and blood tests. There are medications to help regulate thyroid function.
It is important to know that thyroid disorder rarely reverses itself on its own (except in the case of viral thyroiditis, which may sometimes rarely abate without treatment).
The best way to start feeling better is to seek out the help of your physician for a through evaluation. In many cases, your physician may recommend that you see an endocrinologist or and ENT doctor for further evaluation. Evaluation often begins with a history, physical exam, and blood testing. Sometimes imaging studies (ie-thyroid ultrasound) may also be ordered. Once you have been diagnosed, medication can be prescribed to improve your sleep, manage any weight concerns and get you on the road to feeling better right away!
About Dr. Kenneth Rosenstein
Dr. Kenneth Rosenstein, MD, is a well-trained and highly experienced physician who provides medical and surgical care for a full spectrum of ear, nose, and throat problems. His special interests are treating patients with thyroid disorders, hearing loss, ear disorders, and voice and swallowing problems. To schedule your initial consultation with him, visit www.beckerent.com.