The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located at the base of the human neck. This gland plays an important role in controlling the metabolism of the body and vital functions such as breathing, heart rate, body weight, cholesterol levels menstrual cycles, etc.
The thyroid uses the iodine from the food we consume and makes two hormones – Triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4) which influence the metabolism of the body cells.
Hypothyroidism – This occurs when enough thyroxine is not produced for the body’s needs, slowing down the cells and organs of the body. For eg. The heart rate slows down in case of hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism- In this case, the thyroid secretes too much thyroxine for the body’s needs and thus leads to increased activity of the body cells or body organs. For e.g., this condition results in the quickening of the heartbeat.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
When the thyroid does not produce enough thyroxin, hypothyroidism occurs. The symptoms of this condition are as follows:
- Dry Skin
- Poor concentration
- Fluid retention
- Muscle and Joint Aches
- Excessive and prolonged menstrual bleeding
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
Excessive production of the thyroid hormone causes this condition. The symptoms are as follows:
- Fast heart rate
- Intolerance for heat
- Increase in bowel movements
- Increased sweating
- Concentration problems
- Unintentional weight loss
Hypothyroidism – This condition is caused due to the following reasons:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis which is an autoimmune condition resulting in the swelling up of the thyroid glands.
- Thyroid hormone resistance. This is a rare genetic disorder in which some body tissues do not respond normally to the thyroid hormones
- Inflammation of the thyroid.
- Iodine deficiency.
- Graves’ disease. This is an autoimmune disorder. It attacks the immune system of the body causing the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormone than required.
- Toxic multinodular goiter which is basically an enlargement of the thyroid gland.
- Sometimes the thyroid nodules overexpress the thyroid gland secreting excessive thyroid hormone. Nodules are abnormal masses within the thyroid.
- Excessive iodine consumption.
Apart from a thorough medical history and a physical examination, a blood test is conducted to evaluate the levels of the thyroid hormones, T3 and T4 along with TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone).
Thyroid disorders can be treated through medication or depending on the disorder, sometimes with surgery as well.
Hypothyroidism – Medication in a synthetic thyroid pill form is given to replace the missing thyroid hormone.
Hyperthyroidism – Medications are prescribed to decrease the production of the thyroid hormone. Other medications are also given to help manage symptoms of Hyperthyroidism, such as increased heart rate. In some cases, instead of medication, doses of iodine labeled with radioactivity are given which selectively destroys the thyroid tissue. This process is known as Radioactive Ablation.
Surgery is conducted when there is a large goiter or a hyperfunctioning thyroid nodule within the gland. Surgery is conducted if there is a risk of cancer in the future. If the thyroid gland is removed entirely, then the patient will have to take synthetic thyroid hormone for life.