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Thyroid Disorders - Types, Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis & Treatments

Max Lab

Jul 11, 2022

Thyroid problems are conditions that affect the thyroid gland, which is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck. The thyroid is responsible for regulating many metabolic processes throughout the body. Thyroid problems impact either the function or the structure of the thyroid. The thyroid gland is found beneath Adam's apple and is covered around the trachea (windpipe). The isthmus is a thin region of tissue in the middle of the gland that connects the two thyroid lobes on each side. 

Usually, the thyroid uses iodine to release essential hormones. Because the pituitary gland and hypothalamus control the thyroid gland, disorders in these organs can also affect thyroid function and create thyroid problems. This blog lists the common types of thyroid diseases with their causes, symptoms, diagnosis, and possible treatments.

Hyperthyroidism

When one’s thyroid glands become overactive, it is commonly described as hyperthyroidism. The excessive production of thyroid hormones causes individual body functions to speed up. Hyperthyroidism is generally a rare condition that affects only 2 to 3 per cent of the population per year.

Causes

The common causes of hyperthyroidism are:

  • Excessive iodine intake
  • Inflammation of the thyroid gland
  • Consumption of too much thyroid hormone medicine 
  • Thyroid nodules, often known as toxic nodular goitre or multi-nodular goitre, are hyperactive
  • Non-cancerous pituitary gland tumour

Symptoms

  • Fatigue
  • Weight loss
  • Racing heart rate
  • Irritability
  • Shaking
  • Excessive sweating
  • Heat intolerance
  • Brittle nails and hair

Diagnosis

A doctor or healthcare practitioner can diagnose hyperthyroidism by prescribing tests that analyse one’s thyroid hormone levels or the functioning of one’s thyroid. A blood test is used to measure the thyroid hormones, like a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), T4, thyroxin, etc. TSH is released by one’s pituitary gland to stimulate the thyroid to release hormones. One’s doctor can prescribe a TSH test to assess these thyroid hormones. Thyroid overactivity can be indicated by high thyroxine and low TSH levels. 

Treatments

An individual’s doctor can recommend further treatment in accordance with the cause. A doctor can prescribe radioactive therapy, anti-thyroid medicines, and sometimes, surgery depending on the cause and severity of the disorder.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is the exact opposite of hyperthyroidism. In this thyroid disorder, the thyroid glands become underactive. That means one’s thyroid glands are not releasing enough hormones. The low thyroid hormones cause the body’s functioning to slow down. 

Causes

The possible causes of hypothyroidism are:

  • Iodine deficiency
  • Congenital hypothyroidism – people born with this condition
  • Medications including cancer medications or heart medications
  • Thyroiditis

Symptoms

  • Weight gain
  • Dry hair and skin
  • Slow heart rate
  • Fatigue
  • Intolerance to cold temperatures
  • Weakness

Diagnosis

Blood and imaging tests are commonly used by doctors to diagnose hypothyroidism. A blood test like the TSH test helps in determining one’s TSH and thyroid hormone levels. A high TSH level along with a low thyroxine level may indicate that one’s thyroid is underactive. These levels may also indicate that one’s pituitary gland is secreting more TSH in an attempt to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce hormones.

Treatments

Thyroid hormone medications are the primary treatment for hypothyroidism. It's important to get the dosage in the appropriate quantity as consumption of too much thyroid hormone can trigger hyperthyroidism symptoms.

Goitre

Goitre is a condition when the thyroid gland gets enlarged. Iodine deficiency in an individual diet is the most common cause of goitre worldwide. Goitre can affect people of all ages. However, people working in the areas where iodine-rich foods are very short in supply have a higher risk of developing goitre. However, not all causes of goitre are related to iodine deficiency.

Causes

The other causes of goitre, other than iodine deficiency, are:

  • Congenital hypothyroidism
  • Tumour in pituitary glands
  • Thyroiditis

Symptoms

  • Tightness or swelling in your neck
  • Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
  • Hoarse voice

Diagnosis

Goitres can be diagnosed using the same diagnostic methods used for hyperthyroidism. A doctor may suspect goitre during one’s physical examination. A blood test can measure the thyroid hormone, TSH, and antibody levels in the blood. These details will be used to diagnose thyroid disorders, which commonly cause goitre. One’s doctor can also prescribe an ultrasound of the thyroid that can assess enlargement or nodules.

Treatments

A doctor can recommend a radioactive iodine therapy to reduce one’s thyroid gland or surgery to remove all or part of one’s thyroid gland for the treatment of goitre. Although goitres are normally not a cause for concern, if left untreated, they can create major complications. Breathing and swallowing problems are examples of such complications.

Preventing Thyroid Disorders

In many cases, thyroid disorders are unpreventable. Some countries lack iodine-rich foods that can lead to hypothyroidism. Also, an individual is advised to limit the intake of soy foods, especially if he/she is living in an area where iodine-rich foods are lacking. Soy foods tend to limit thyroid hormone growth which can lead to hypothyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by an excessive amount of iodine in one’s diet. So, it is recommended to consume the proper amount of thyroid hormone medications (if taking any) and avoid eating too many iodine-rich foods like salt, seaweeds, fish, etc.

An individual can develop thyroid disorders if he/she smokes a lot. It is recommended to quit smoking as soon as possible as smoking affects the thyroid glands which can impact the thyroid hormones. 

One can rarely prevent thyroid disorders; however, one can prevent the complications of thyroid disorders by getting it diagnosed in time and sticking to the treatment plan.

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