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Do you feel tired all the time? Have you suddenly gained or lost a lot of weight? Do you feel cold or too hot all the time, while others seem to be just fine? If yes, then it is time to get your thyroid hormone levels checked for thyroid disorders.

Things to know about the thyroid gland

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland, located in front of the windpipe. Though it is a small gland, it plays a very large role in proper functioning of nearly each and every organ in the body. It controls the growth and development as well as out metabolism, through hormones called thyroid hormones. An imbalance of these hormones can lead to thyroid disorders and several health problems ranging from infertility to coma.

Types of thyroid disorders

Thyroid disorders arise from either excess or under production of the thyroid hormones called T3 and T4.

Hyperthyroidism : This is a condition where the thyroid gland produces excess hormones. There are a number of causes, such as follows:

  • Graves’ disease : This is one of the commonest reasons for hyperthyroidism. The pituitary gland releases a hormone called Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH). This hormone controls and regulates the production of the thyroid hormones. In Graves’ disease, the immune system releases abnormal antibodies that mimic the action of TSH, causing the thyroid to produce an excess amount of thyroid hormones.

 

  • Sub-acute thyroiditis: This is an inflammatory condition of the thyroid gland, most likely caused by a viral infection, that resolves by itself in a few weeks. There are three phases to this disease. Initially, the thyroid tissue is destroyed due to inflammation, and the thyroid hormones in the follicles are leaked into the bloodstream. This causes a sudden rise in the blood thyroid hormone levels. Next, after 4 to 8 weeks approximately, the hormone levels start dropping, since the follicles are destroyed, and cannot produce more hormones, causing hypothyroidism. Lastly, after about two months, the thyroid repairs itself and forms new tissue that starts producing the thyroid hormones once again, and the hormone levels get back to normal.

 

  • Thyroid adenomas: In this condition, the thyroid tissue starts growing out of control and producing excess hormones. The exact cause is not known.

 

  • Other rare causes include cancer of the thyroid gland, and disorders of the pituitary gland, that controls and regulates thyroid hormone production.

 

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism include:

  • Weight loss, in spite of an increased appetite
  • Excessive sweating
  • Increased heart rate and high blood pressure
  • Palpitations
  • Reduced menstrual flow
  • Diarrhoea
  • Tremors in the hands
  • Muscle weakness
  • Goitre or enlarged thyroid gland
  • A life-threatening complication of hyperthyroidism is called thyrotoxicosis/ thyroid storm, which starts with high blood pressure, increased heart rate, and gastrointestinal symptoms, followed by severe neurological complications and heart failure.

 

Treatment of hyperthyroidism includes anti-thyroid drugs, such as carbimazole, radioactive iodine therapy that chemically destroys the gland and lastly, if nothing else helps, surgery to remove the thyroid gland.

 

Hypothyroidism: This is a condition where the thyroid gland produces inadequate quantities of thyroid hormones. The causes can be as follows:

  • One of the commonest causes of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disease called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, where immune cells from our own body attack and destroy the thyroid tissue, making the gland stop producing thyroid hormones.
  • In people who already have a history of thyroid disease, exposure to high amounts of iodine, causes the thyroid gland to reduce the production of thyroid hormones. The hormone levels rise again, when the excess iodine in the body drops.
  • If the thyroid gland has been surgically removed or chemically destroyed for treating hyperthyroidism, like in cases of cancer, there is no formation of thyroid hormones.
  • Lithium, a drug used to treat certain psychiatric conditions like mania and bipolar disorder, has been known to interfere with the production of thyroid hormones, causing severe hypothyroidism.

 

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

  • Decreased appetite, yet, weight gain
  • Lowered heart rate
  • Constipation
  • Hair loss
  • Lethargy
  • Depression
  • Enlarged thyroid or goitre
  • Tingling and numbness in the hands
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Heavy menstrual flow
  • Myxedema coma is a life-threatening complication of hypothyroidism. The patient may present with severe dip in body temperature, low heart rate, irregular heart rhythms, coma, blood clotting disorders, and sepsis.

 

Treatment of hypothyroidism:

This condition requires long-term thyroid hormone supplements. Your doctor may prescribe a synthetic form of thyroid hormone called levothyroxine. Dietary changes will be suggested, e.g. avoiding goitrogen plants like cabbage and cauliflower that can worsen symptoms of hypothyroidism.

You must watch the syncH live clinic with Dr. Ernesto Medina that was posted on syncH library recently. He gave some valuable insights on thyroid dysfunction and answered questions from the audience. Have you experienced any of the symptoms mentioned above? If you are suffering from a thyroid disorder, do share your experience with us and our readers. Write to us and tell us how you deal with it.

 

 

Photo by Cyril Saulnier on Unsplash

About the Author

Dr. Rachita Narsaria

Dr. Rachita Narsaria

Poet, bookworm, tech-worm, nature lover, entrepreneur