Common Thyroid Issues
Your thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland located in your neck just above your breastbone. This gland secretes thyroid hormones that among other things control your metabolism. Common issues associated with the thyroid include hypothyroidism (usually secondary to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis), hyperthyroidism (usually secondary to Graves’ disease or a toxic nodule), a goiter (multiple large benign thyroid nodules) and thyroid cancer.
VM-Med specialists are highly experienced in all facets of thyroid and parathyroid diseases.
When is a thyroid gland abnormal?
Diseases of the thyroid gland are very common, affecting millions of people. The most common diseases are an over or under-active gland. These conditions are called hyperthyroidism (Grave's disease is one cause) and hypothyroidism. Sometimes the thyroid gland can become enlarged in cases of over-activity (as in Grave's disease) or under-activity (hypothyroidism). An enlarged thyroid gland is often called a "goiter".
Many people develop "lumps" or "nodules" in their thyroid gland (see diagram below). These lumps can either be benign (non-cancerous) or malignant (cancer). They may appear gradually or very rapidly. Patients who had radiation to the head or neck when young for acne, adenoids, lymphoma or other reasons are more prone to develop thyroid cancer. All thyroid "lumps" (nodules) should generate a visit to the doctor.
Types of thyroid diseases
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common thyroid problem and is usually diagnosed in middle-aged women. It occurs when your body’s immune system attacks and slowly destroys your thyroid gland and its ability to produce hormones resulting in hypothyroidism. The symptoms, such as fatigue, depression, and weight gain are subtle and mimic symptoms of other conditions. This disease is treated by taking thyroid hormone replacement such as Synthroid.
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder and the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. The disease is hereditary and more common in women between 20 and 30 years of age. Another cause of hyperthyroidism is a Toxic thyroid nodule, where only one small nodule is overproducing hormones. Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to severe health problems, such as rapid heart rate, weight loss and muscle weakness. Severe thyrotoxicosis may lead to cardiac arrhythmia, one of the major reasons for sudden cardiac death. When treating hyperthyroidism, your doctor will first prescribe you medication to lower the level of thyroid hormone back to normal. Then a definitive treatment plan can be decided: depending on the situation, it can be treated by burning the thyroid with radioactive iodine, by removing the thyroid or in certain cases by new minimally invasive non-surgical treatments. Ask your thyroid specialist about those new treatments.
Hyperparathyroidism is when your parathyroid glands create high amounts of parathyroid hormone (PTH) in the bloodstream, a condition often referred to as hyperplasia. These glands are located behind the thyroid at the bottom of your neck. Symptoms are often absent in early disease.
The parathyroid hormone produced by the thyroid glands helps maintain the right balance of calcium in the bloodstream and in tissues that depend on calcium for proper functioning. This is especially important for nerve and muscle function, as well as bone health. Hyperthyroidism causes the levels of calcium in your blood to rise, because it signals to your body to release more calcium into your blood from your bones, where most of your calcium is stored. Loss of calcium from your bones weakens them and increases your risk of a fracture.
Common early symptoms are joint pain, fatigue, depression and muscle weakness. In more severe cases you can experience nausea, confusion, bone pain and need to urinate. The condition is usually diagnosed through a blood test.
Types of thyroid nodules
Thyroid nodules are caused by an overgrowth of cells in the thyroid gland. They are solid or fluid-filled lumps that form within your thyroid. More women than men are diagnosed with thyroid nodules. When they become very large or multiple, the nodules are called a Goiter.
Most thyroid nodules are benign and don't cause symptoms. However, when they are large, they can compress your airway and oesophagus causing difficulty breathing or difficulty swallowing. In this case, the goiter/ nodule can be treated by removing part or all the thyroid (thyroidectomy) or by new non-surgical minimally invasive techniques for thyroid gland removal or thyroid nodule removal. Ask your thyroid specialist about those new techniques.
A small percentage of thyroid nodules represent Thyroid cancer and require the removal of all or a part of the thyroid (thyroidectomy).
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