A small gland located beneath the Adam’s apple, the thyroid is a part of a greater, more intricate network that regulates the human body. Part of the endocrine system, which is responsible for regulating and coordinating your body’s homeostasis, the thyroid develops and releases hormones that regulate your metabolism.
Unfortunately, thyroid disease is somewhat common, and it affects many people every year. The common types involve hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and both have their own variations. Let’s explore each to better understand what they look like and how they’re managed.
Types of Thyroid Disease
Per the suffix “hyper,” hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid is overactive—it produces too much of its hormone. Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Increased heart rate
- Regular sweating
- Muscle weakness
- Weight loss
- Difficulty sleeping
- Brittle hair and nails
Because these symptoms could be related to other diseases and illnesses, such as a general anxiety disorder, a physician will check for hyperthyroidism by conducting blood tests that measure the blood for levels of thyroxine (the primary thyroid hormone, T4) and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). High levels of thyroxine and low levels of TSH indicate that your thyroid is overactive—producing too much of its hormone.
Treatments for hyperthyroidism vary, but simpler cases will involve the ingestion of radioactive iodine, which will work to destroy the thyroid gland. Similarly, a drug such as methimazole (Tapazole) might be prescribed, as it will stop the thyroid from producing hormones. In some cases, surgical removal might be required.
Once your thyroid is destroyed, removed, or stops producing hormones, you will enter a state of hypothyroidism, which will then require a daily dose of medication to ensure you still receive your thyroxine.
● Graves’ Disease
One of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ Disease affects about 1 in 200 people in the United States. The disease is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland, causing it to overproduce the body’s primary hormone that regulates our metabolism. A hereditary disease, the increase in metabolism-regulating hormones can lead to the following symptoms:
- Excessive sweating
- Vision problems
Graves’ Disease is often diagnosed through a basic physical exam, where your doctor can check for enlarged bumps in your neck, either of the thyroid or a goiter, and readings of your pulse and blood pressure—both of which will be high. To make sure they receive the best results, you’ll also have your blood drawn to check your T4 and TSH levels.
If results come back positive, there’s little solution beyond the usual for hyperthyroidism: You’ll receive treatment for your overactive thyroid and then will receive a daily thyroid-hormone medication once your thyroid becomes inactive.
● Thyroid Nodules
Growths that are produced on the thyroid gland itself are called thyroid nodules. While not incredibly common, many people have small nodules they are not aware of. Iodine deficiency tends to be the most common cause of thyroid nodules. Either solid or filled with pus, they’ll usually become noticeable after some time, causing discomfort and becoming visible. Some can be cancerous, so doctors will be precautious when they are found.
The nodule will cause an increase in the production of T4, leading to metabolism instability. Common symptoms mirror other forms of hyperthyroidism. The causes aren’t always known but can include iodine deficiency and Hashimoto’s disease. The nodules can be solid or fluid-filled. Some nodules produce thyroid hormone, causing abnormally high levels in the bloodstream. When this happens, symptoms are similar to those of hyperthyroidism and can include:
- High pulse
- Weight loss
But symptoms can also mirror hypothyroidism as well, exhibiting effects such as:
- Weight gain
- Flaky and scratchy skin
- Hair loss
Thyroid nodules are often found during physical examinations. If found, your doctor will likely schedule a CT scan, ultrasound, or MRI to determine the size and number of the nodules. Blood tests will also test for T4 and TSH levels, and cells will be taken to be sampled for a cancer screening.
Dependent on the diagnosis, finding out whether it’s hypo- or hyperthyroidism, your doctor will decide whether to remove your thyroid or simply remove it through radioactive iodine. If it’s found to be cancerous, it will require treatment, ranging from chemotherapy to surgical removal.
If the side effects produced, such as hair loss or weight gain, are bothersome to you, you can employ treatments to overcome them. For example, laser hair regrowth treatments are available and effective to regrow hair lost to the side effects of thyroid disease.
Hypothyroidism, at its most basic level, is the opposite of hyperthyroidism—as the name would tell. Hormone production slows within the thyroid under this condition, and it is most commonly diagnosed by testing blood levels for T4 and TSH, wherein TSH levels are high and T4 levels are decreased. The most common type of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, which affects approximately 14 million Americans.
● Hashimoto’s Disease
Also called chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s disease occurs when your immune system attacks the thyroid gland, making it nearly impossible for it to continue producing its necessary hormones.
Symptoms can be apparent, but many people with the disease can be asymptomatic for many years. Symptoms usually seen in people struggling with the disease include:
- Enlarged thyroid
- Weight gain
- Dry skin
- Pale skin
- Thinning hair or hair loss
Beyond doing a physical exam and learning more about your symptoms, your doctor will have a blood test run to check the levels of your TSH and T4. At the same time, they’ll check the blood screening for noticeable antibodies, which can identify immune system culprits attacking your thyroid due to overproduction.
With no cure, Hashimoto’s is treated with daily hormone-replacement medication to ensure your body receives the needed hormones to manage metabolism. In the case of symptoms like hair loss and thinning, you can talk to your physician about the option of low-level laser therapy, which is safely utilized in hair regrowth devices to restore the quality of damaged, weakened, and lost hair.
Consult and Treat if Necessary
Thyroid disease is unfortunate, but it can be treated effectively if found by your physician. If you’ve been experiencing any of the above symptoms, consider consulting your physician to conduct basic tests to maintain your health.