For a little gland, your thyroid does a lot of heavy lifting. It controls your metabolic rate, which means it regulates your muscles, digestion, heart, brain development, and bone maintenance. When your thyroid malfunctions, these systems malfunction as well.
Here, Dr. James Lee at Woodstock Family Practice & Urgent Care in Woodstock, Georgia, explains the two main thyroid conditions that cause a laundry list of problems, and what you can do if it happens to you.
Understanding your thyroid
Situated in the front of your neck, just below your larynx (Adam’s apple), the butterfly-shaped thyroid gland wraps around your windpipe (trachea). Your thyroid thrives on iodine in your diet, and malfunctions when supplies are low or if it becomes inflamed.
Your thyroid takes its commands from your pituitary gland at the base of your brain, which takes cues from the hypothalamus region of your brain. This trio works together in a network called the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis, triggering the release of thyroid hormones that keep your body’s systems balanced and running smoothly.
However, when your thyroid pumps out an abundance of hormones (hyperthyroidism) or slows down and produces too little (hypothyroidism), you start to experience a ripple effect of symptoms and health problems. Here’s a closer look at these two conditions.
If you develop inflammation or nodules on your thyroid, it may release a flood of thyroid hormones into your bloodstream. Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition that enlarges the thyroid, may lead to hyperthyroidism as well.
Too much iodine can also throw your thyroid out of whack, and the culprit may be in certain medications you’re taking, so tell Dr. Lee about all the drugs and supplements you take, including cough syrup.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism vary depending on the severity and the exact cause, but they can include:
- Racing heart rate
- Weight loss
- Feeling flushed or hot
- Thinning hair or hair loss
- Red, itchy skin
- Frequent bowel movements
Over time and left untreated, hyperthyroidism can lead to serious health complications, including brittle bones, atrial fibrillation, and eye problems.
Treatments for hyperthyroidism
If you have hyperthyroidism, Dr. Lee may prescribe anti-thyroid medications, beta-blockers, or radioactive iodine to slow down the production of hormones. In severe cases, part or all of the thyroid may need to be removed.
The opposite of hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones. This may happen if you don’t get enough iodine in your diet or if you have an inflamed thyroid (thyroiditis).
Another cause of hypothyroidism, called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, may also be the culprit. This genetic disorder causes problems in the immune system and affects the production of thyroid hormones.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
If you have hypothyroidism, it may be tricky to identify right away, since the symptoms mirror other conditions and may feel mild or vague. They include:
- Slowing heart rate
- Weight gain
- Muscle aches and cramps
- Brittle nails, dry skin, and hair loss
- Memory problems
- Feeling cold
If you ignore hypothyroidism, you may be at risk for peripheral neuropathy (nerve damage), goiter (enlarged thyroid), heart disease, infertility, or birth defects.
Treatments for hypothyroidism
Whether you have an underactive thyroid or your thyroid has been removed, the good news is that oral synthetic thyroid hormones can solve the problem and restore balance.
If you have any of the symptoms described here and haven’t been able to pinpoint the cause, it may be your thyroid. Dr. Lee discusses your symptoms and medical history and then confirms or rules out a hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism diagnosis with a blood test.
Schedule an appointment today by calling our friendly staff or booking online, and find out if your mysterious symptoms point to a thyroid problem.