Getting the facts on thyroid disease
The thyroid gland
Have you been diagnosed with a thyroid condition? Or are you suffering symptoms that you think may stem from your thyroid gland? This may leave you wondering, just what is the thyroid? And what is thyroid disease? Here are a few answers for getting the facts on thyroid disease.
When someone talks about thyroid disease, they’re referring to any one of several disorders afflicting the thyroid gland. This is a small organ, about the size of two thumbs pressed together, that is located in the base of your throat, just above your clavicle.
The thyroid is an endocrine gland, meaning it works with several other such glands to keep the body’s internal systems from going out of balance. It does this by producing three key hormones: calcitonin, which mediates blood calcium levels, and triiodothyronine and thyroxine, which together mediate energy use, metabolism and protein creation.
What is Thyroid Disease?
So what is thyroid disease? There are several kinds. The most common is a condition known as underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism. This affects slightly less than 5 percent of the population and occurs more commonly in women.
Depression, muscle cramps, reduced heart rate, cold intolerance, reduced sweating, fatigue, rapid thoughts and constipation are among the many symptoms. Hypothyroidism can be caused by several factors, including chronic levels of stress. It can be inherited (though only rarely), caused by certain medical problems and pregnancy, and brought on by long-term lithium use. Removal of all or a portion of the thyroid during surgery can also cause this condition.
Less pervasive but still relatively common is the disorder known as hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. About 1 percent of the population suffers from this disorder, the vast majority female. What is this thyroid disease like to live with? Symptoms can include hand tremors, anxiety, vomiting, profuse sweating, muscle weakness, insomnia, racing heart, brittle hair, weight loss and irritability. Hyperthyroidism is usually the result of an autoimmune disorder known as Graves’ disease, though there are other possible causes.
Less than 1 percent of the population suffers from thyroiditis, another form of thyroid disease. It’s often misdiagnosed because its symptoms are non-specific and are shared with many other conditions: They include weight gain, fatigue, depression, constipation and fuzzy-headedness.
Thyroid cancer afflicts an even smaller portion of the population. Thyroid cancer is now being detected earlier, but that may be at least in part because the medical community has developed more aggressive methods for catching thyroid cancer early. It fortunately has an excellent cure rate in most cases.
If you have questions or concerns about thyroid disease see your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a thyroid surgeon.