Detecting a thyroid problem
Do you have a thyroid problem? And how can you tell? An estimated 200 million people worldwide do. These conditions can bring on everything from irritability to baldness, but the good news is that many of these problems are treatable. This article provides general information about thyroid problems and is not a substitute for thorough medical assessment.
But first, what is the thyroid gland? It’s a small organ in the neck, about the size of two thumbs pressed together in the shape of a “V.” It’s located between the collarbone and the Adam’s apple. Like the pituitary gland and the adrenal glands, it is part of the endocrine system, a group of glands scattered throughout the body that keep the body’s internal systems on balance.
Glands produce hormones and the thyroid produces three: one that regulates calcium levels in the blood and two that deal with metabolism and other body systems. A thyroid problem results when these hormones get out of whack. Specifically, the thyroid can become overactive, producing too much of its hormones, or underactive, producing too little. The former state is known as hyperthyroidism, the latter as hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is most often a result of the autoimmune disorder Graves’ disease, in which the thyroid is tricked by rogue antibodies into secreting too much of its hormones. Neck goitres can develop and symptoms include heavy sweating, weight loss, bulging eyes, heart palpitations, anxiety and irritability, muscle weakness, diarrhoea, sleep disturbances, increases in appetite and sensitivity to heat.
The opposite condition, hypothyroidism, is a thyroid problem that has multiple causes, such as autoimmune disorders, genetics, stress, iodine deficiencies, and surgery to remove the thyroid because of cancer or hyperthyroidism. Memory lapses, cold sensitivity, baldness, fatigue, slowed heart rate and weight gain are among the symptoms.
Treatment for thyroid problems
There are successful treatments for both these conditions. Treatments for overactive thyroid include beta-blockers, dietary changes, antithyroid medications, surgery and radiation therapy. Hypothyroidism is treated with synthetic forms of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland.
Cancer can also be a cause of a thyroid problem. Typically, there are no symptoms, though there may be a neck nodule and pain in the neck and vocal changes may follow later in the cancer’s progression.
The easiest way to avoid thyroid problems is to catch them early. You can do this by checking your thyroid if you believe you’re experiencing any of the symptoms of these conditions. Just stand in front of a mirror and tilt your head back. Swallow a mouthful of water and watch the area below your Adam’s apple. Repeat a few times. If you noticed any bulges or protrusions, call your doctor.
If you have questions or concerns about thyroid problems see your local doctor who will arrange for you to see a thyroid surgeon.