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Understanding Thyroid: Types, symptoms, causes, risk factors, and treatment

Team AckoOct 14, 2022

According to a 2022 report published on PubMed, Thyroid Disease is one of the common endocrine disorders affecting 11% of Indians, 2% of Americans, and 4.6% of Britons. Also, it's more likely to develop in females, especially right after childbirth and menopause. The reasons for this disorder are still unclear. Worry not! It's treatable. Let’s dive in to know more about Thyroid, its types, symptoms, causes, risk factors, complications, and treatment options.

Thyroid Diseases

Contents

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What is Thyroid and what does it do?

The Thyroid is an endocrine gland located in the front of your neck just below Adam’s apple. It has two lobes, right and left, that are wrapped around the windpipe, known as the trachea. This gland has some vital functions to perform in the human body. It releases and controls thyroid hormones, which further monitors metabolism. Metabolism refers to the metabolic processes that occur when your body converts food into energy. 

The Thyroid makes two hormones, which are as follows.

  1. Thyroxine (T4): It contains four atoms of iodine

  2. Triiodothyronine (T3): It contains three iodide atoms

These hormones are secreted into the bloodstream. The Thyroid gland will maintain the right amount of hormones to help your metabolism function properly. This process is monitored by the pituitary gland, which is located below the brain. This gland regulates the number of thyroid hormones and produces its own hormones, TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone), in case of scarcity of thyroid hormones. The pituitary gland adjusts the hormones and helps the Thyroid to get the body back to its normal functioning.

Types of Thyroid Disease

If the Thyroid gland does not work properly, then your body gets affected, and you develop Thyroid Diseases, which are as follows.

1. Hypothyroidism (Underactive Thyroid)

In this condition, your Thyroid does not produce and release enough T3 and T4 hormones. As a result, your metabolism slows down. 

2. Hyperthyroidism (Overactive Thyroid)

It occurs when your Thyroid produces more amounts of T3 and T4 hormones than your body needs. This overproduction of hormones affects your entire body, and your body’s metabolism increases.

Both of these disorders can lead to serious health problems. Therefore, timely action is needed to treat these issues.

Thyroid symptoms

If your Thyroid levels are very low, then it causes Myxedema, which is a severe type of Hypothyroidism. The symptoms of Myxedema include heart failure, coma, low body temperature, anaemia, and confusion. 

Other signs of Hypothyroidism are as follows.

  • Weight gain

  • Fatigue

  • Dry and coarse hair

  • Intolerance to cold temperatures

  • Poor concentration 

  • Hoarse voice

  • Frequent and heavy menstrual periods

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism include the following.

  • Unintentional weight loss

  • Anxiety, nervousness, and irritability

  • Enlarged thyroid gland or a goitre

  • Difficulty sleeping

  • Heat intolerance and excessive sweating

  • Vision problems 

  • Eye irritation

  • Increased appetite

  • Rapid heartbeat

  • Frequent bowel movements

  • Hair loss or brittle hair

  • Irregular or no menstruation 

  • Muscle weakness

  • Thin and moist skin

You may experience a few or most of these symptoms at the same time.

What causes Thyroid problems?

By now, you already know that you face Thyroid problems when your Thyroid gland does not work properly. Now the question is, what affects the working of the Thyroid gland? Here are the causes due to which individuals get Thyroid Diseases. 

Causes of Hypothyroidism

  • Having an autoimmune disorder known as Hashimoto's thyroiditis

  • Removal of the Thyroid gland

  • Consumption of lithium drug

  • Intake of higher amounts of medications for cold, sinus, and heart medicines

  • Iodine deficiency

Causes of hyperthyroidism

  • Graves’ disease 

  • Subacute thyroiditis (inflammation of the Thyroid)

  • Tumour of the pituitary gland

  • Toxic adenomas (growths on your Thyroid)

Risk factors of Thyroid

Here is the rundown of the risk factors for Thyroid problems.

  • Family history of Thyroid disease

  • Individuals who have received radiation to the neck or upper chest

  • Women older than 60 years

  • Getting too much iodine from foods and iodine-containing meds

  • Had undergone Thyroid surgery 

  • Have delivered a baby within the past six month

  • Having an autoimmune disorder like celiac disease

  • Diabetes (higher risk in individuals with Type 1 diabetes as compared to Type 2 diabetes)

  • Have chronic conditions like Primary Adrenal Insufficiency, Rheumatoid Arthritis, Pernicious Anaemia, Turner Syndrome, and Sjögren’s Syndrome

Complications of Thyroid

The Thyroid can lead to a range of complications, which are as follows.

  • Myxedema (a life-threatening condition)

  • Heart problems

  • Goitre

  • Mental health issues

  • Infertility

  • Peripheral neuropathy

  • Brittle bones

  • Thyrotoxic crisis

  • Red and swollen skin

  • Eye problems

How is Thyroid disease diagnosed?

Thyroid problems can be a bit challenging to diagnose as their signs match with other conditions. Pregnant ladies and individuals who are ageing may face the same signs. Well, there are ways that can help confirm the condition. 

1. Physical exam

Your doctor will check your Thyroid by gently placing a hand on your neck. A bumpy or tender neck is a sign you have Hyperthyroidism. Also, your eyes will be checked to see if there is any swelling or redness. Your heartbeat, hands, fingernails, and skin will also be assessed.

2. Blood tests

Your doctor may order some of these Thyroid blood tests.

  • Total T3 (total triiodothyronine)

  • Free T3 (free triiodothyronine)

  • Thyroglobulin antibodies or antithyroglobulin antibodies

  • Reverse T3

  • Thyroid-receptor antibodies (TRAb)

  • Total T4 (total thyroxine)

  • Free T4 (free thyroxine)

  • Thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI)

  • Thyroglobulin or thyroid-binding globulin (TBG)

  • Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb) or antithyroid peroxidase antibodies

3. The Thyroid-Stimulating Hormone Test (TSH)

This test is used to evaluate the type of Thyroid problem. If TSH is high, with low T4/free T4 and T3/free T3 levels, you have Hypothyroidism. On the flip side, if TSH is low, with high T4 and higher T3/free T3 levels, you have Hyperthyroidism.

4. Imaging tests

Following tests can also be used to determine the lump in your neck and the kind of condition one has.

  • Thyroid ultrasound to see if the lumps or nodules are filled with fluid or if it is a solid mass.

  • CT scan to get a clear image of the Thyroid.

  • Magnetic resonance imaging(MRI) to understand the size and shape of the Thyroid gland.

  • Radioactive iodine uptake (RAI-U) or nuclear scan to evaluate the symptoms of thyroiditis, goitre, and Graves' disease.

Treatment options for thyroid problems

The treatment options depend on the type of Thyroid disorder you have. However, the goal of each treatment is to bring your Thyroid hormone levels back to normal. 

Treatment for Hypothyroidism 

This Thyroid disorder is usually treated by consuming hormone replacement medication called levothyroxine. This tablet adds thyroxine hormone so that you can control your condition. You will start with the low dose, and your doctor will gradually increase it. Eventually, you will be able to live a normal life.

Treatment for Hyperthyroidism 

There are different treatment options for this condition, which are as follows.

  • Surgery: Your doctor will remove your Thyroid, and you will have to take hormone replacement tablets. 

  • Antithyroid drugs: Medications such as methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU) can be used to treat overactive Thyroid.

  • Beta-blockers: These meds help control your symptoms like fast heartbeat, anxiety, etc.

  • Radioactive iodine: This treatment helps shrink your Thyroid to bring down the levels of hormones. 

Frequently asked questions

Here’s a list of some common queries and their solutions related to Thyroid problems.

Which food items are good for the Thyroid?

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Iodised salt, roasted seaweed, dairy products (yoghurt, cheese, and milk), fish and seafood (tuna, cod, and shrimp), eggs, and nuts are some iodine-rich foods to help thyroid function.

Can thyroid disorders impact the ability to get pregnant?

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This problem affects the menstrual cycle and can make it difficult for women to conceive.

Can Thyroid disorders be prevented?

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Generally, both Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism are not preventable. It is vital to be aware of signs and risk factors so that you can take timely action and visit a doctor for screening.

Should I exercise if I have a thyroid disease?

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Yes, you can. In fact, regular exercise should be a part of your lifestyle.

References:

Disclaimer: The content on this page is generic and shared only for informational and explanatory purposes. It is based on several secondary sources on the internet. As this content piece is not vetted by a medical professional, please consult a doctor before making any health-related decisions.

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