The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low on the front of the neck. Your thyroid lies below your Adam’s apple, along the front of the windpipe. The thyroid has two side lobes, connected by a bridge (isthmus) in the middle. When the thyroid is its normal size, you’re unlikely to be able to feel it.

Every cell in the body has receptors for thyroid hormone. These hormones are responsible for the most basic aspects of body function, impacting all major systems of the body.

Thyroid hormone directly acts on the brain, the G.I. tract, the cardiovascular system, bone metabolism, red blood cell metabolism, gall bladder and liver function, steroid hormone production, glucose metabolism, lipid and cholesterol metabolism, protein metabolism and body temperature regulation. You can think of the thyroid as the central gear in a sophisticated engine. If that gear breaks, the entire engine goes down with it.

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Most common thyroid gland problems could be divided into a few groups:

1.Thyroiditis

2. Hypothyroidism

       a. Congenital known as Cretinism

       b. Aquired Hypothyroidism

3. Hyperthyroidism

4. Goiter

5. Autoimmune thyroid disease

        a. Graves disease

        b. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

6. Thyroid cancer

Most often you will hear about Hypothyroid or Hyperthyroid condition.  A lot of thyroid gland problems overlap and can get confusing.  Let’s take a look at the individual cases.

1. Thyroiditis is the swelling of the thyroid gland due to inflammation which usually follows an upper respiratory infection triggered by a viral infection, such as mumps, flu or a common cold.  It is a rare condition most commonly seen in middle-aged women. The most obvious symptom of subacute thyroiditis is pain in the neck, difficulty swallowing, fatigue, fever, hoarseness, tenderness to the thyroid gland.

Other forms of thyroiditis:

– Silent (painless) thyroiditis – is very similar to post-partum thyroiditis. It is also an autoimmune condition

– Post-partum thyroiditis when immune system attacks your thyroid gland within around six months of giving birth, causing a temporary rise in thyroid hormone levels. In most women with the condition, thyroid function returns to normal within 12 months after the baby is born, although the low thyroid hormone levels can sometimes be permanent.

– Drug induced thyroiditis [1]

– Radiation-induced thyroiditis is usually acute thyroiditis resulting from radioactive therapy to treat hyperthyroidism or from radiation to treat head and neck cancer or lymphoma.

2. Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid disease when the thyroid gland does not make enough of the thyroid hormone called thyroxine. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder, but it could be due to radiotherapy to the neck area or use of certain medications, thyroid surgery or too little iodine in the diet.

An underachieving thyroid can make someone feel tired, gain weight, feel depressed, feel more sensitive to the cold, have dry skin and hair or experience muscle aches.

Around 15 in every 1,000 women and one in 1,000 men in the UK have a hypothyroid [2].

common thyroid gland problems_2

3. Hyperthyroidism denotes excess of circulating thyroid hormone. In a blood test TSH (Thyroid Stimulating hormone) is usually decreased or undetectable. If your test results are abnormal, your doctor may also arrange thyroid ultrasound, or thyroid scan, to check for nodules or inflammation.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism vary from patient to patient, and may include:

•       Fast heartbeats or palpitations, shortness of breath

•       Anxiety, shakiness, tremor, irritability

•       Feeling warm and/or increased sweating

•       Muscle weakness or twitching

•       Sleep disorders

•       Fatigue or increased energy

•       Hair loss, acne, oily skin

•       Increased appetite, weight loss or less commonly, weight gain

•       Diarrhea, or increased number of bowel movements

•       Menstrual irregularities

There are several conditions that may produce Hyperthyroidism, including:

•       Graves’ Disease

•       Thyroiditis

•       A single toxic nodule or toxic Multinodular Goiter

•       Drug– or iodine-induced thyroid dysfunction

•       Excess thyroid hormone ingestion

Women are around 10 times more likely to develop hyperthyroidism than men [2].

4.Goiter can have several solid or fluid-filled lumps called nodules that develop in both sides of thyroid, resulting in overall enlargement of the gland. Iodine deficiency or an autoimmune disease are the usual causes of disease.

5. Autoimmune thyroid disease is due to autoimmunity in which the patient’s immune system attacks and damages their thyroid. Graves’ disease and Hashimoto thyroiditis are forms of autoimmune thyroid disease.

Many cases of Hashimotos disease can occur in teens and young women, but more commonly it appears in middle age. People who get Hashimoto’s disease often have family members who have thyroid or other autoimmune diseases. For many, the symptoms are silent–the early stages. But eventually, you start to notice the same symptoms of hypothyroid.

As it progresses, you may feel very hypo one day, and very hyper another, which is caused by the destruction of your thyroid. In addition to testing thyroid hormones in a blood test, your doctor will be checking for thyroid antibodies.  In most cases, Hashimoto’s is confirmed by two antibodies labs – anti-TPO (antibodies against thyroid peroxidase, an enzyme normally found in the thyroid gland that plays an important role in the production of thyroid hormones) and TgAb (ant-thyroglobulin antibodies).

First described by Robert Graves in 1835, Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disease that arises as a consequence of the body producing antibodies against the thyroid (thyroid stimulating immunoglobulins) that result in excess thyroid hormone thyroxine production. This overstimulation causes the thyroid to swell. Although stress is often noted prior to or coincident with the development of Graves’ disease, it is not possible to state with complete certainty that there is a scientific link between stress and the development of disease.

The most common symptoms of Graves’ Disease, or thyroid over-stimulation include symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Graves’ Disease is the only kind of hyperthyroidism that is associated with inflammation of the eyes, swelling of the tissue around the eyes, and protrusion, or bulging, of the eyes. Some patients will develop lumpy reddish thickening of the skin in front of the shins. If left untreated, Graves’ Disease can lead to more serious complications, including birth defects in pregnancy, or an increased risk of a miscarriage.

If you want to know which kind of diet is the most appropiate to combat hypothyrodism, read this!

6. Thyroid Cancer is fairly uncommon.

Although it is a cancer that requires treatment and lifelong monitoring, and can have debilitating effects on patients, survival rates are high, with 95% of all thyroid cancer patients achieving what would be considered a cure, or long-term survival without reoccurrence. The causes of thyroid cancer are, for the most part, not known other than to have a hormonal or gender connection.  Thyroid cancer affects women two to three times more than men.

Untreated thyroid problems can dramatically increase your risk of obesity, heart disease, depression, anxiety, hair loss, sexual dysfunction, infertility and a host of other symptoms and health problems. So, the importance of recognizing the signs and symptoms, and getting a proper diagnosis and treatment, is clear.

References:

[1] http://www.drugs.com/cg/induced-thyroid-disorders.html

[2] www.webmd.com

http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/thyroiddiseases.html

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