The thyroid is a gland located in the front of the neck that regulates the body’s metabolism. Every cell in the body relies on the hormones produced by the thyroid, so it affects multiple systems and organs, including the brain, skin, hair, eyes, heart, and intestine. When the thyroid is unable to work properly, it can seriously disrupt the normal functioning and development of the body.
According to the American Thyroid Association, approximately 20 million Americans have a thyroid disease, with 60 percent of those people unaware of their condition. Women can be up to eight times more likely to have thyroid problems, with one in eight women developing a thyroid disorder. The most common thyroid conditions are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism, the most frequently occurring condition, involves an underactive thyroid gland that cannot produce sufficient amounts of hormones. Hashimoto’s disease leads the immune system to attack the thyroid, and is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Symptoms of an underactive thyroid can be subtle and are often mistaken as signs depression or other illnesses. These include:
- Cold intolerance
- Hoarse voice
- Weight gain
- Muscle and joint pain or stiffness
- Sparse, coarse, and dry hair
- Coarse, dry, and thickened skin
- Thinning eyebrows
Hypothyroidism can be diagnosed with a blood test, and treated with a prescription of thyroid hormones to replace the deficient ones.
Hyperthyroidism produces an overactive thyroid gland that releases too many hormones, intensifying the body’s metabolism. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune problem where an antibody overstimulates the thyroid.
Some of the most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Irritability and nervousness
- Weight loss
- Increased perspiration
- Weak muscles, especially in the upper arms and thighs
- Shaky hands
- Fast heartbeat
- Menstrual and bowel changes
- Difficulty sleeping
Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed through a blood test, thyroid ultrasound, or a thyroid scan. Treatment is specific for each patient, but may include anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, surgery to remove all or part of the gland, or beta-blocking agents.
Thyroid disease is often mistaken for other conditions. If you suspect you may be suffering from a thyroid disorder, discuss your symptoms with your doctor. If you don’t have a doctor, click here or call 800-216-5556 and El Camino Hospital can help you find one that’s right for your needs.