Discover how you can find relief from various thyroid disorders.
A butterfly-shaped gland in the front of the neck below the Adam’s apple and around the trachea, the thyroid performs many important functions that affect many parts of the body. Thyroid disorders can be nothing more than an enlarged gland or similar minor manageable problems, or potentially life-threatening if tissues in this gland become cancerous. Most thyroid problems involve issues with:
- Excessive hormone production (hyperthyroidism)
- Insufficient hormone levels (hypothyroidism)
When the thyroid gland fails to produce enough thyroid hormone, it’s a disorder referred to as hypothyroidism. Issues with a part of the brain that controls hormone production (hypothalamus), the thyroid gland, or the pituitary gland at the base of the brain are among the possible causes of reduced hormone production. Symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include fatigue, muscle and joint pain, and depression.
Not as common as an under-active thyroid gland, excessive thyroid activity may not produce any noticeable symptoms. When symptoms do appear, patients with hyperthyroidism may experience unexplained weight loss, difficulty concentrating, fatigue, and intolerance to heat. The condition is sometimes caused by a toxic multi-nodular goiter, problems with thyroid nodules, or an immune system disorder such as Grave’s disease.
A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland that’s affected by changes in hormone production. Depending on the size of the goiter, symptoms may include hoarseness, visible swelling, and difficulty swallowing or breathing. Goiters are often a sign of another thyroid disorder.
Modules are lumps or abnormal masses that develop within the thyroid. Nodules may form due to benign tumors or cysts. While cancer sometimes contributes to lumps developing, this is a rare cause of thyroid nodules. If nearby structures are affected, nodules may need to be removed.
More common in adult women and people 55 and older, thyroid cancer is believed to be linked to both genetic and environmental factors. Treatment will depend on the specific cells affected and whether or not nearby tissues are also affected. Symptoms typically include visible swelling, voice changes, and a frequent cough. Prognosis is often good when thyroid cancer is detected and treated in early stages.
Diagnosis and Testing
Diagnosis of thyroid problems typically include blood tests to identify antibodies and check thyroid hormone levels along with X-rays, MRI and CT scans, ultrasonography, and other image tests. With some suspected conditions, a thyroid scan with a radioactive isotope is performed. Fine needle aspiration may also be done to test cell or tissue samples.
Treating Thyroid Disorders
Treatment for most thyroid disorders involves some combination of observation, thyroid hormone replacement drugs and other medications, or surgery. Oftentimes, thyroid disorders can be successfully managed with medication and lifestyle adjustments. If a thyroid needs to be removed, patients will need to take a synthetic version of this hormone for the rest of their lives.
Since symptoms of thyroid-related problems are sometimes vague or signs of unrelated issues, an ear, nose, and throat specialist is usually able to rule out other conditions and make a positive diagnosis of a thyroid disorder.