Wednesday, July 21, 2010
Understanding the Thyroid
It is estimated that 30 million Americans suffer from thyroid related diseases out of which about 50% of the cases are undiagnosed. The reasons that these thyroid related diseases are undiagnosed are that it is either often overlooked or misdiagnosed. This is very unfortunate as thyroid related disease affect almost every aspect of our health. Women are at a greater risk of developing thyroid problems when compared to men and the risk increases with age especially if there is a history of thyroid disease in the family.
The thyroid is a small gland that is shaped liked a butterfly and is present in the neck, wrapped around the windpipe just below the Adam’s Apple area. The thyroid produces several hormones the two prominent ones being the triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The numbers 3 and 4 indicate the number of iodine molecules in each thyroid hormone molecule. T3 is biologically more active and functions at the cellular level. These hormones have the responsibility of helping the oxygen enter the cells.
The thyroid contains the only cells in the body that is capable of absorbing iodine, the source of iodine being food, iodized salt and other supplements. The thyroid helps convert the iodine in the T3 and T4 hormones. When the hormone functions in the right manner, it will produce 80% of T4 hormone and 20% of T3.
Thyroid Disease – Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism is the name given to the condition when the thyroid gland is under-active. There could be several reasons for this like the gland was not properly formed during birth or it was removed surgically for some reason or the gland simply is not able to produce the required amount of hormone. Also, one of the main causes of hypothyroidism is the autoimmune disease known as the Hashimoto’s disease wherein the antibodies present in the body target the thyroid and destroy its ability to produce the hormone.
Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism include a slow metabolism, fatigue, weight gain and depression. To diagnose hypothyroidism, your doctor will recommend a blood test. Treatment of hypothyroidism includes thyroid replacement drug therapy. These medicines have to be taken daily and usually for the entire life span.
Thyroid Disease – Hyperthyroidism
Hypothyroidism is the name given to the condition when the thyroid gland is over-active. One of the main causes of hyperthyroidism is the autoimmune disease known as the Grave’s disease wherein the antibodies present in the body target the thyroid and speed up the production of the hormone.
Some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are fatigue, weight loss, depression, changes in sex drive, insomnia, infertility, erratic behavior, heat tolerance and increased appetite. To diagnose hyperthyroidism, your doctor will recommend a blood test. Treatment of hyperthyroidism includes using a beta-adrenergic blocking drug which helps in blocking the action of circulating thyroid hormone on the body tissue.
Thyroid Disease – Goiter
Goiter is the name given to the condition when the thyroid gland becomes enlarged in size. This could either be because if Hashimoto’s disease, Grave’s disease or nutritional deficiencies. At times the glands become so large, they can be seen in x-rays or can be seen visibly through the neck.
The symptoms of goiter include tenderness to touch, pressure on the windpipe or the esophagus, hoarseness, cough, choking, shortness of breath and the feeling that food is getting stuck in your throat while you are eating.
Thyroid Disease – Thyroiditis
Thyroiditis is the name given to the condition when the thyroid gland becomes inflamed due to bacterial or viral infections.
If you suffer from anyone the symptoms mentioned above, then do visit your doctor and discuss your concerns. In some rare cases, thyroid can turn cancerous too and hence it is most imperative that you take additional precaution. Further, if you are a woman who is nearing menopause then it is always recommended that you routinely get the thyroid levels in your body checked especially if you have a history of thyroid disease in your family. You will have to consult an endocrinologist, preferably one who specializes in thyroid related disorders. A couple of alternate forms of treatment are available and you must evaluate all your options and choose the best form of treatment available.