The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck around the trachea, or windpipe. Its function is to secrete hormones necessary for many functions in your body, including controlling your metabolism, which is why it can affect your entire body if it’s not performing correctly.
This includes hypothyroidism, which is a condition in which the thyroid underperforms.
Who is generally affected by thyroid disease?
Thyroid disease can affect anyone, no matter their age or gender. Hypothyroidism may be present in newborns, and it may also develop later in life. For instance, post-menopausal women often experience it.
Though thyroid disorders affect an estimated 20 million people in the U.S., women are five to 10 times more likely to be diagnosed with one.
Other factors include genetics, age, medications, medical conditions, or previous treatment for thyroid conditions or cancer, such as a thyroidectomy or radiation treatments.
How are thyroid problems diagnosed?
To diagnose thyroid conditions, your doctor will start with some blood tests to determine your levels of thyroid hormones. Once it’s been determined that your levels are either too low (hypothyroidism) or too high (hyperthyroidism), your doctor may then use other tests to determine the cause.
For hypothyroidism, this may include a test for a pituitary hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone, or TSH, which our pituitary produces more of in an attempt to stimulate an underperforming thyroid. This may go along with a test to determine low levels of the thyroid hormone thyroxine, which would also indicate a slow thyroid.
For hyperthyroidism, an iodine uptake test, which traces the amount of iodine absorbed by the thyroid, may be used.
Other tests may include a thyroid scan, which is an imaging test in which your thyroid is checked for any abnormalities in size and shape or growths using an ultrasound machine. This may go along with a physical exam in your doctor’s office, where your doctor simply checks your neck for growths or enlargement of your thyroid.
How are thyroid problems treated?
While hyperthyroidism may be treated with antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, beta blockers or surgery, virtually the only option for hypothyroidism is thyroid replacement medications. This may include drugs such as levothyroxine, which is a synthetic hormone that acts in place of the hormones not being produced by the thyroid.
However, adhering to a healthy diet is recommended, since diet and nutrition play a large role in your thyroid’s health. Your thyroid needs protein, magnesium, calcium, iodine and vitamins A, B-complex, and C to stay healthy and function at its peak. Try including fresh, ocean-caught fish from low on the food chain, canned whole sardines, sea vegetables and plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables in your diet. You can also supplement if you find you’re falling short.
Remember that, since a common cause of hypothyroidism is taking selenium while having low iodine levels, it’s important that you keep your diet balanced.
Pseudoephedrine from cold and asthma remedies, caffeine and other alkaloids can also induce symptoms of hyperthyroidism, including rapid heart rate and high blood pressure, and should, therefore, be avoided whenever possible.
What are the different types of thyroid surgeries?
In some cases, your physician may determine that your thyroid needs to be removed via a procedure known as a thyroidectomy, which can be done in a couple of different ways. Depending on the severity of your condition, this may mean either partial or full removal of the gland.
When should you contact a physician?
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- weight gain
- dry skin
- muscle aches
- brain fog
- thinning hair
If you experience these or any other unusual symptoms, it’s time to see your doctor.
For hyperthyroidism, anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability and an enlarged thyroid are all signs that you need to get checked. For both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, it’s never a good idea to assume that an unusual symptom is something that will just go away.
Why should you choose a provider at Intermountain Health?
Your health really is your most important asset, and at Intermountain Health, we deliver the best in comprehensive healthcare to protect you and yours. With award-winning healthcare professionals dedicated to bringing you top-quality, affordable healthcare, you’re going to feel right at home when you come in.
That’s because it’s you, the person, we care most about.
At Intermountain Health, our mission is to help you live your healthiest life possible, and that’s a vow we plan to keep!
*This article is for informational purposes only and is not intended to be a substitute for medical advice or diagnosis from a physician or qualified healthcare professional.