Thyroid disorders can seriously affect the normal functioning and metabolism within the body. There are three main types of disorders of the thyroid gland with is a butterfly shaped organ in the neck area: Hyper thyroid, which is overactive thyroid and hypo thyroid which is underactive thyroid. The third is type of thyroid disorder is thyroid nodules which are largely benign but which could also be cancerous.
Before looking at thyroid disorders, let us understand what the thyroid gland is. This is the largest of the body’s endocrine glands and is responsible for the production of thyroid hormones, the most important of these being triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). These hormones are responsible for the rate of metabolism within the body, the rate of growth as well as other functions in the body.
Thyroid Disorders – Hypothyroidism
Simply put, this thyroid disorder causes the underproduction of the hormones T3 and T4. The main causes of this are iodine deficiency (an unlikely cause in the developed world), congenital abnormalities or autoimmune disorders.
If for some reason the thyroid gland is required to be removed, or if there is damage to the thyroid cells or tissue, such as the type caused by radiation, hypothyroidism will occur. Stress, in particular chronic stress is another factor known to cause thyroid dysfunction.
Underactive thyroid disorders usually cause symptoms such as feeling colder than normal, weight gain or inability to lose weight, water retention, slowing of the digestive system (constipation), low resting heart rate, dry itchy skin, decreased sweating, fatigue and tiredness, poor muscle tone, muscle cramps and joint pain, problems with the menstrual cycle and fluctuating thoughts among others.
As the disease progresses, it can cause goiter, deepening or hoarsening of the voice, low basal body temperature, thinning of the hair, and depression. Less commonly, those with hypothyroid may have memory problems, poor reflexes, anemia, lethargy and the need to sleep more, difficulty in swallowing and even impairment of taste, smell and hearing.
Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid disorders are usually treated with hormone replacement therapy. Synthetic forms of the thyroid hormone thyroxin (levothyroxine or L-T4) and triiodothyronine (liothyronine L-T3) are most often used to control the symptoms such as weight gain, low energy levels, dry skin, hair loss and feeling cold as well as goiter.
When the thyroid gland produces abnormally large amounts of the thyroid hormone, hyperthyroidism occurs, which causes thyrotoxicosis or excess amounts of the hormone in the blood stream.
The most common reason for overactive thyroid disorders is Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disease that causes serious metabolic imbalances. Inflammation of the thyroid gland or thyroiditis as well as certain medications could also cause the problem. In some cases, this is a postpartum disorder that is seen in new mothers which usually resolves itself.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism most often include jitteriness, nervousness or shaking, rapid heartbeats, a faster resting heart rate, weight loss in spite of normal or even increased appetite, inability to bear the heat, fatigue, increased bowel frequency, lighter and shorter monthly period. There is a speeding up the body’s metabolism and other systems and this could also cause hyperactivity and anxiety symptoms.
The symptoms of overactive thyroid disorders may not be evident immediately and to begin with could be mistaken for stress. Irritability, weakness, fatigue, muscular pain and apathy could all be among the symptoms. The typical enlarged eyes due to weak eye muscles may also be seen in those with hyper thyroid.
If left untreated, hyperthyroid could cause osteoporosis. In some cases an overactive thyroid gland may become underactive as it gets damaged.
Anti-thyroid drugs or suppressive thyrostatics medication is the usual modality of treatment for these thyroid disorders. If required, surgical intervention may be carried out at a later stage and/or radioisotope therapy could also be used. These approaches will usually lead to the thyroid gland producing fewer hormones than needed and supplementation with levothyroxine or Triiodothyronine can be used for managing the disorder.
Thyroid disorders are important to diagnose and control earlier rather than later, because an imbalance of the hormone can disrupt most areas of life, and lower health and wellbeing. And modern medicine has made it possible for us to manage the disease effectively by something as simple as popping a pill every day.