What is Thyroid Disease?

There is a lot of talk about thyroid disease these days. You may have heard stories from people who finally got answers to long-term questions about their health when they started doing thyroid tests.

It is especially important that women or someone assigned a woman at birth know about thyroid disease, as they are five to eight times more likely to develop one. Around one in eight women will develop thyroid disease in their lifetime.

What exactly is the thyroid gland and what disorders and conditions can it affect?

What is the thyroid?

The thyroid is an essential part of the endocrine system. This small butterfly-shaped gland is located in the lower part of the front of your neck.

This incredible gland is best known for its role in hormone secretion, but it also helps with vocalization and voice quality. Hormones secreted by the thyroid help control and regulate metabolism, heart rate, brain development during puberty and infancy, growth and body temperature.

To do this, iodine is extracted from food and converted into the two most important thyroid hormones T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine). These hormones act on almost every cell in your body.

This gland has a lot of responsibilities and is an integral part of your health and wellbeing. As you can imagine, thyroid disease can seriously affect the body.

Types of thyroid disease

Because the thyroid gland has many different roles, there are different ways that thyroid disease can affect the body.

Hyperthyroidism: This happens when too much thyroid hormone is produced. Symptoms include irritability and nervousness, fatigue and difficulty sleeping, excessive thirst and frequent peeing, weight loss despite increased appetite, low libido, muscle weakness and diarrhea. It is often a result of Graves’ disease or an overactive lump on the thyroid gland.

Hypothyroidism:: This is the most common thyroid disease and is characterized by low thyroid hormone production. Hypothyroidism is most commonly caused by autoimmune diseases. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include irregular periods, constipation, depression and fatigue, muscle cramps, slow thoughts and movements, carpal tunnel syndrome, weight gain, and sensitivity to cold.

Thyroid Cancer: This is usually curable and not very common. Fortunately, the 5-year survival rate is around 95%. People with thyroid cancer often have no symptoms and are only diagnosed if their provider does a general physical exam or if the imaging is done for an unrelated reason. If you have symptoms, which may include difficulty swallowing or breathing, hoarseness, sore throat or neck pain, persistent cough, and / or a lump in the neck, treatment for thyroid cancer may be considered.

Hashimoto’s disease: Caused when the immune system attacks the thyroid, resulting in hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease affects about 5 in 100 people in the United States. It most commonly occurs in people between the ages of forty and sixty. People can have the same symptoms listed above for hypothyroidism, as well as an enlarged thyroid that may be visible. People with autoimmune diseases like celiac disease, type 1 diabetes, or lupus may be more likely to develop Hashimoto.

Goiter: Or a swelling of the thyroid gland is more of a symptom of thyroid disease like Hashimoto’s disease than a separate disorder. Sometimes it’s completely harmless, but it can also indicate an iodine deficiency.

Some other thyroid conditions include relatively common and typically harmless thyroid nodules and a rare form of overactive thyroid called a thyroid storm that can cause serious problems.

The thyroid and reproductive health

Thyroid disease can seriously affect people’s reproductive health. This could look like overly heavy or missed and light periods. They can also affect fertility and contribute to recurrent miscarriages.

If you have recurrent pregnancy loss or difficulty conceiving, it may be helpful to have your thyroid checked, especially before undergoing fertility treatments.

Treatment of thyroid disease

Because thyroid disorders can vary widely, treatment protocols also vary widely. Treatment needs may vary, even for people with the same condition.

Treatments for thyroid disease may include:

  • Radiation in the presence of cancer.
  • Removal of part or all of the thyroid gland in cancer or hyperthyroidism.
  • Radioactive iodine, used to destroy cancerous tissue or an overactive gland.
  • Antithyroid drugs that slow down the production of hormones for people with hyperthyroidism.
  • Thyroid pills used as hormone replacement therapy for people with hypothyroidism.
  • Natural remedies and lifestyle changes like reducing stress, eating healthy and compensating for missing nutrients like B vitamins and selenium (important for thyroid function and metabolism).

Risk factors for thyroid disease

There are certain risk factors that make people more prone to developing thyroid disease.

As mentioned earlier, women and people assigned a woman at birth are at a much higher risk of developing thyroid disease, as well as people with pre-existing autoimmune diseases

Many of these disorders likely have a genetic component. So, if anyone in your family has or has had a thyroid disorder, this can give you some insight into your own health.
If you suspect you have thyroid disease, Advocate for youGet your thyroid levels tested along with a comprehensive screening.

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