Common Thyroid Problems
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the neck that makes and secretes two hormones, thyroxine, or T4, and triiodothyronine, or T3. These two hormones control the body’s metabolism and influence most of the organs in the body. Many common medical conditions are related to problems with the thyroid and its secretion of hormones.
Hypothyroidism results from an underactive thyroid gland that produces less hormone than the body needs. It is a common medical condition affecting approximately 10 million Americans, according to endocrineweb.com. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue and slowed thinking, weight gain, feelings of being cold and constipation. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an autoimmune disease in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Other causes include inflammation of the thyroid that leaves damaged or dead cells, thyroid surgeries, such as for thyroid cancer, which leaves an insufficient amount of hormone producing cells, or damage due to radioactive iodine therapy. In rare cases, the thyroid is normal but the pituitary gland is defective in controlling thyroid hormone secretion or the thyroid may not develop properly. Underactive thyroid problems are easily treated with administration of thyroid hormone medication on a daily basis.
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite of hypothyroidism, in that the thyroid gland is overactive and produces an excess of T3 and T4. Symptoms include jitters and shakes, nervousness and irritability, weight loss, frequent bowel movements and feelings of being hot. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune disease, called Grave’s disease, that overstimulates the thyroid gland called. Subacute, lymphocytic and postpartum thyroiditis, all inflammatory conditions of the thyroid, can lead to an overproduction of thyroid hormones. Excessive doses of thyroid hormone medication can also lead to hyperthyroidism. Treatment is more complicated than with hypothyroidism, but options do exist. Radioactive iodine therapy is used to destroy a small percentage of hormone-producing cells of the thyroid, or surgery can remove part of the thyroid. Medications are also available that can slow hormone production.
Thyroid nodules are tiny lumps in the thyroid that are fairly common and in most cases harmless. According to endocrineweb.com, around 50 percent of the population will have a thyroid nodule at some point in time, with over 95 percent of them benign, or noncancerous. They generally occur around the edges of the thyroid, and most people are unaware of their presence unless they become enlarged. A small percentage of these nodules do become cancerous and may need to be surgically removed. Age is the greatest risk factor for nodules, as the incidence of having a nodule increases with age.
According to the National Cancer Institute, approximately 45,000 new cases of thyroid cancer occur each year in the United States. Thyroid cancer is an abnormal and out-of-control growth of thyroid cells that typically originates within a discrete thyroid nodule. It can occur at any age but is found most often after the age of 30 and in females. Several types of thyroid cancer exist, with papillary or follicular thyroid cancer accounting for 80 to 90 percent of the cases, according to the National Cancer Institute. Less common types are Hurthle cell, medullary and the rarest, anaplastic. Thyroid cancer has a very high cure rate using surgery and radioactive iodine therapy