Overview – What is it?
Thyroid conditions are the diseases that affect the thyroid gland which is located at the front of the neck. This butterfly shaped gland regulates most vital body functions such as heart rate, breathing, body temperature, level of cholesterol in the body and menstruation, among other functions of the body. Some thyroid problems are hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, goitre and thyroid cancer.
The causes of thyroid conditions include a drop or increase in production of thyroid hormone, loss of thyroid tissue and the use of certain medications. These conditions can be diagnosed using blood tests, thyroid ultrasound and other imaging tests like a CT scan. The treatments for these conditions include medication and thyroid surgery. Thyroid conditions can be prevented by not smoking, eating healthy and avoiding toxins, among other things.
Causes – What causes it?
The cause of thyroid problems depends on the specific condition. The main thyroid conditions include:
- Hypothyroidism: This thyroid condition involves the production of insufficient thyroid hormone which can occur due to:
- Problems in the thyroid gland or other glands such as the pituitary gland
- Exposure to excess amounts of iodine
- Removal of the thyroid gland
- Using lithium
- Autoimmune disorders such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis which attacks thyroid tissue causing the gland to die and not able to produce hormones.This drop in thyroid hormones leads to lower energy levels in the body.
- Hyperthyroidism: This condition is less common than hypothyroidism and involves excessive production of thyroid hormone. This is caused by:
- Conditions like thyroiditis and Graves’ disease
- Excessive consumption of iodine
- Thyroid nodules that overexpress thyroid hormone.
- Thyroid cancer: This occurs when cells of the thyroid mutate and change causing rapid and uncontrollable growth of abnormal cells or cancerous cells which leads to the formation of tumours. This can be caused by:
- Exposure to radiation
- Being a woman increases your risk of getting this cancer
- Gene inheritance from parents
- Not having enough iodine in the diet
- Having breast cancer which also increases your risk of getting thyroid cancer.
- Goitre: This refers to the abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. It is brought about by:
- Iodine deficiency
- Other conditions like thyroid cancer, Hashimoto’s disease, thyroiditis and multinodular goitre
- The human chorionic gonadotropin which is released during pregnancy and which can cause enlargement of the thyroid gland.
- Thyroid nodules: These are solid or fluid-filled lumps that form within the thyroid which can be cancerous but in most cases are not. The causes of these nodules include:
- Thyroid cyst
- Other conditions such as thyroid cancer and thyroiditis
- Overgrowth of the normal tissue making up the thyroid
- Iodine deficiency.
Symptoms – What do you feel?
The symptoms depend on which condition you have. They may include:
- Dry skin
- Poor concentration
- Feeling cold
- Joint and muscle pain
- Prolonged menstruation in women
- Fluid retention
- Increased appetite
- Rapid heartbeat
- Sudden weight loss
- Increased sweating
- Intolerance to heat
- Problems concentrating
- Unintentional weight loss
- Increased bowel movements
Thyroid cancer symptoms:
- Having a problem swallowing food
- Changes in voice such as hoarseness
- Cough that does not go away
- Lump at the front of the neck
- Swollen painless glands in the neck
- Difficulty breathing
- Pain from the front of the neck into the ears
- Swelling at the base of the neck
- A feeling of tightness in the throat
- Difficulty swallowing
- Difficulty breathing
Thyroid nodules symptoms:
- Enlargement of the nodules appearing like a swelling at the base of the neck
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Increased perspiration
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
- Unintentional weight loss
Diagnosis – How do you diagnose it?
- Physical exam: This is done during the initial consultation after you have discussed your symptoms and your medical history with a doctor.
- Blood tests: These can be used to measure the levels of thyroid hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone. They can also be used to identify antibodies against thyroid tissue.
- Imaging tests: They are done to give detailed images of the thyroid showing any abnormalities such as the presence of tumour or cyst. These can be done using a computerised tomography (CT) scan.
Treatment – How do you treat it?
The treatment of thyroid conditions is done through:
- Medication: Thyroid medications can be used to replace missing thyroid hormones or reduce the number of thyroid hormones produced. They can also be used to manage the symptoms for thyroid conditions such as hyperthyroidism like increased heartrate. Some examples of medications used in treatment of thyroid conditions are beta blockers and methimazole, among others.
- Surgery: This is used to remove a large goitre or a hyperfunctioning nodule within the gland. The entire thyroid can also be removed and in this case the person will require synthetic thyroid hormones for life. The removal of the entire thyroid gland is referred to as thyroidectomy.
Prevention – How do you prevent it?
There are no specific ways to prevent each of the thyroid conditions discussed, however, the risk factors for these conditions can be reduced by:
- Not smoking
- Avoiding radiation exposure
- Avoiding excessive alcohol intake
- Not starving yourself to lose weight
- Maintaining a healthy balanced diet rich in vegetable and fruits
- Getting tested for thyroid antibodies that attack the thyroid gland
- Checking for food allergies and sensitivities
- Checking the functioning of your thyroid by monitoring the levels of thyroid hormones in the body
- Limiting the consumption of soy