Having a thyroid disorder can affect your energy, weight, sleep, mood and even fertility. Thyroid disorders are more common in women than in men and approximately one in eight women will have thyroid issues in her lifetime.
Other risk factors for thyroid problems include having a thyroid issue in the past, surgery or radiotherapy to the thyroid gland, goiter, type 1 diabetes or anemia.
What is the thyroid?
The thyroid – part of the endocrine system – is a butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck. It is responsible for producing the thyroid hormone, which regulates the body’s metabolism. Your metabolism determines how quickly you burn calories and the rate at which your heart beats.
When the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, the body slows down. When it produces too many thyroid hormones, the body’s processes speed up.
Common thyroid disorders
The most common thyroid issues are:
Hypothyroidism: Also known as underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism means the thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. The most common form in the United States is Hashimoto’s disease, where the immune system attacks the thyroid. Symptoms include fatigue, weight gain, feeling unusually cold, depression, constipation, pale or dry skin, thinning hair, slow heart rate, and changes in the menstrual cycle.
Hyperthyroidism: Also known as overactive thyroid, this condition occurs when the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone, speeding up the metabolism. The most common form is Graves’ disease. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include weight loss, excessive hunger, rapid or irregular heartbeat, nervousness, anxiety, irritability, difficulty sleeping, trembling hands and fingers, sweating, feeling hotter than usual, diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements, changes in the menstrual cycle, and bulging or redness of the eyes.
Thyroiditis: Thyroiditis means inflammation of the thyroid, often because the immune system is attacking the gland. It is caused by genetics, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, infections and certain medicines. Common forms of the disease are postpartum thyroiditis and Hashimoto’s disease. Symptoms can be similar to those of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Goiter: A goiter means the thyroid gland is swollen. It can manifest as a visible bulge on the neck as well as cause coughing or hoarseness.
Nodules: Nodules are growths on the thyroid gland that can cause the thyroid to produce too many hormones. While most thyroid nodules don’t cause symptoms and are harmless, they can sometimes be cancerous. Symptoms include a lump that can be seen or felt as well as difficulty breathing or swallowing.
Diagnosis and treatment
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be diagnosed with a simple blood test, while an ultrasound is often used to assess nodules. Treatments vary depending on the diagnosis and can include medication, lifestyle modifications (like diet and exercise) and surgery.
If you are concerned about your thyroid health, talk to your primary care provider. To find one near you, visit pardeehospital.org.