The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland covering the windpipe just below the Adam's apple in your neck. It is part of the endocrine system, one of the most important systems in the human body. Endocrine glands regulate tissue and organ function, metabolism, and growth and development by secreting thyroid hormones (T4, T3) into the bloodstream. Thyroid hormones regulate cell metabolism (energy production), which affects nearly every organ and cell in the body.
When the thyroid gland produces less hormones than the body needs, the result is hypothyroidism. When more hormones are produced than necessary, the result is hyperthyroidism. Timely detection and proper treatment of these conditions allows patients to lead normal active lives. But, left untreated, serious negative health effects can result.
What Are the Symptoms?
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), some symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin
- Depressed mood
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include:
- Increased sweating
- Tremors in the hand
- Difficulty sleeping
- Rapid heartbeat
- Frequent bowel movements
How Is a It Diagnosed?
If you have any of the above symptoms or have risk factors for developing a thyroid disease, talk to your doctor. She can order tests to assess how your thyroid is functioning.
For example, the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test may be done. TSH, a hormone produced by the pituitary gland, triggers the thyroid gland to make more thyroid hormone. The level of TSH in your body provide a good indicator of how your thyroid is working. If you have a higher-than-normal level, this may mean that you have hypothyroidism. Conversely, a lower-than-normal level may indicate hyperthyroidism.
A thyroid antibody test can also be ordered. If your body identifies the thyroid as foreign, antibodies are created to attack it. This attack can lead to damage and an increase in the production of thyroid hormones. Depending on which antibodies are present, your doctor can determine the type of thyroid disease you have.
What Treatments Are Available?
If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, normal thyroid levels may be attained by supplementing the body's hormone with a synthetic hormone medicine. This medicine is available in tablets and must be taken daily for life. The dosage prescribed by a doctor is carefully and gradually adjusted until a normal TSH level has been achieved. The TSH test will have to be repeated to make sure that the dosage continues to be appropriate.
Taking too much of this medicine can cause you to have the hyperthyroidism, so it is important that you work closely with your doctor to keep TSH at the right level.
If you are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, the treatment is more complex and can include antithyroid drug therapy, beta-blockers medicines, and radioactive iodine treatment. In rare cases, thyroid surgery may be done, which involves removing the thyroid gland.
Remember, if you are experiencing symptoms or have a family history of thyroid disease, do not be afraid to ask your doctor to do a diagnostic test. Timely detection and treatment of a thyroid disorder can greatly enhance your quality of life—for the rest of your life.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 05/2011 -
- Update Date: 05/23/2011 -