Thyroid Disorders

The thyroid gland produces hormones that regulate the body’s energy level and metabolism. Problems with the thyroid gland are relatively common, but they can be difficult to diagnose. Since the thyroid gland regulates the metabolism, it affects most of the organs in the body. This means that a thyroid disorder can have many different effects. The symptoms of thyroid disorders such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can vary widely in different patients, and they can also appear in patients with completely different conditions that are nothing to do with the thyroid gland. This can make it very difficult to pinpoint the cause of a thyroid disorder.

Two of the most common thyroid disorders are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. These occur when the thyroid gland is not producing hormones at the correct rate. If the thyroid gland is not producing high enough levels of hormones then the metabolism will not work at a fast enough rate. This is hypothyroidism or an under active thyroid. If the thyroid gland is producing hormones at levels that are too high, then the metabolism will work too fast. This is hyperthyroidism or an overactive thyroid.

Hypothyroidism or an under active thyroid can occur when the thyroid gland is unable to produce sufficient levels of hormones, due to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, damage caused by inflammation or surgical removal. The symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, weight gain, intolerance to the cold, dry skin, dry hair, heavy menstrual periods and constipation. Blood tests are used to make a diagnosis of hypothyroidism. Once the condition has been recognized, it is usually treated very successfully. The thyroid hormones that the thyroid gland is unable to produce are replaced with synthetic thyroid hormones that are taken in the form of tablets. The levels of thyroid hormones in the blood are monitored to ensure that the correct dosage of this medication is being given.

Hyperthyroidism is usually caused by a condition known as Graves’ disease. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism include nervousness, shaking, irritability, heart palpitations, intolerance to heat, weight loss, fatigue, lighter menstrual periods and an increase in the frequency of bowel movements. In some cases, when the cause of the hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, the eyes can be affected. They may bulge or become irritated. Blood tests are conducted in order to confirm a diagnosis of hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism may be treated using antithyroid drugs to suppress the function of the thyroid gland, radioactive iodine to permanently disable the thyroid gland or surgery to remove the thyroid gland. This may leave the patient requiring treatment for hypothyroidism.

Thyroid nodules are another fairly common thyroid disorder. Thyroid nodules are lumps in the thyroid gland. These nodules are common and usually benign, although some thyroid nodules may be cancerous. A biopsy of the lumps can be taken to determine whether they are cancerous, in which case they can be surgically removed.


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