18 Things Your Doctor Wants You to Know About Thyroid Problems
More than 20 million Americans will get hit by thyroid disease or disorder—and 60 percent of them won’t even realize that’s what is making them sick. Here’s what doctors need you to know.
What your thyroid is
“The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ that sits in the front of the neck,” says Archana Durga Narla, MD, an endocrinologist at Crystal Run Healthcare in West Nyack, New York. “It makes thyroid hormones [mostly triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4)] which is used by multiple organ systems throughout the body.”
How important thyroid hormones are
The hormones your thyroid produces are carried through the bloodstream throughout your body, and they direct vital body systems like your metabolism, your heart rate, your brain, and your muscles. They also help stimulate and regulate how efficiently your body uses energy.
Hyperthyroidism is one of the most common thyroid diseases
According to the National Institutes of Health, 1.2 percent of people in the U.S. suffer from hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid)—roughly one in 100 people. Women are two to 10 times more likely to have hyperthyroidism than men, and it’s most commonly caused by an autoimmune response from the body. The immune system attacks the thyroid, leading the gland to behave erratically, says Dr. Narla. Learn the simple habits that can help keep your thyroid healthy.
Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism
The NIH says Graves’ disease affects 1 in 200 people—most commonly those between the ages of 30 and 50; again, women are more susceptible to the disease than men. Graves’ disease is a type of autoimmune disease that attacks the thyroid. People with a family history of Graves’ or a related autoimmune condition such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, or celiac disease may later develop Graves’ disease. Read about the autoimmune disease that’s striking millennials in record numbers.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism can vary
“Hyperthyroidism can present with symptoms ranging from fatigue to irritability,” says Erik Polan, DO, assistant professor at Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine. “Common symptoms also include a goiter (an enlarged thyroid gland), irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation), diarrhea, insomnia, weight loss, tremors, and heat intolerance.”
Hyperthyroidism can make you may feel energized
“Patients with hyperthyroidism often have increased energy due to a more active metabolism,” says Dr. Narla. “But this is not sustainable, so over time patients often develop fatigue as well.” Check out these 13 thyroid facts you should definitely know.
Hyperthyroidism usually has three treatment options
In order to manage hyperthyroidism, doctors and patients can choose between three different approaches. Finding the right one will depend on the underlying cause of the disorder, the patient’s preference, and any potential risks based on the patient’s health history, says Dr. Narla. The options include medication such as methimazole or propylthiouracil to control thyroid function, surgery on the gland, or a procedure called radioactive iodine ablation, which kills a portion or all of the thyroid.
Severe cases can turn into a thyroid storm
The sudden overproduction of thyroid hormones is called a thyroid storm and requires hospitalization to manage the condition. Symptoms include a high fever over 100.5˚F, diarrhea, vomiting, and, in extreme cases, fainting and loss of consciousness. A thyroid storm can also result from treating the condition with radioactive iodine, especially in patients with Graves’ disease. These are the 13 silent thyroid symptoms to watch out for.
The other extreme: hypothyroidism
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This is the opposite of a hyperactive thyroid. Hypothyroidism means the gland is slowing down and failing to produce enough hormones. The National Institutes of Health says that 4.6 percent of the U.S. population over the age of 12 suffers from mild hypothyroidism, or five out of 100 people. As with hyperthyroidism, women are more prone to the condition, particularly women over the age of 60. Again, the usual cause is the body’s immune system attacking the thyroid by mistake, says Dr. Narla, resulting in the destruction of thyroid cells and its enzymes needed to make thyroid hormones.
Hashimoto’s disease is the leading cause of hypothyroidism
The most common autoimmune disorder that leads to hypothyroidism is called Hashimoto’s disease, according to the NIH: It hits five out of 100 people in the U.S. between the ages of 40 to 60. Like Graves’, women are at higher risk, and having an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, type 1 diabetes, or celiac disease (to name a few) worsens your odds. Why some people develop Graves’ disease versus Hashimoto’s disease is still largely unknown, but researchers think it’s a combination of genes and potentially certain viruses. These are the 12 silent signs of Hashimoto’s everyone should know.