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Caring for Your Thyroid

08-03-2020

The thyroid is a vital hormone gland that plays a significant role in your body’s metabolism, growth, and development. This butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck creates a thyroid hormone that travels through the blood to all parts of your body. The thyroid is an essential part of regulating the body, but it also can cause many problems for the estimated 20 million Americans who struggle with thyroid disease.

Thyroid care is best administered by an endocrinologist who subspecializes in thyroidology, according to Dr. Nathan Carnell, an endocrinologist at Frederick Health.

“A thyroidologist is able to provide dynamic ultrasounds at the bedside, perform fine needle aspiration biopsies and interpret and tie together all of the tests to arrive at the proper diagnosis for the problem,” says Dr. Carnell.

Frederick Health’s clinic has three providers with more than 40 combined years of thyroid specialty experience. They have performed tens of thousands ultrasound exams and thousands of fine needle biopsies, and they follow the latest evidence-based guidelines from the American Thyroid Association. As a result, fewer patients require biopsies, surgeries and radiation than in the past.

Read on to learn about common thyroid problems and how to care for your thyroid.

Who is at high risk of thyroid problems? While thyroid problems can also affect men, certain thyroid diseases are much more common in women. This includes disorders that cause hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, thyroiditis, goiter, thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer. In general, women are five to eight times more likely than men to develop thyroid disease.

How do thyroid problems affect women? One in eight women will develop thyroid problems in her lifetime. The thyroid helps control your menstrual cycle, and when there is too much or too little thyroid hormone, you may notice your period becomes very light, heavy, or irregular.

If thyroid disease is caused by your immune system, other glands—including your ovaries—can be affected. This can lead to early menopause. Thyroid diseases can also make it difficult to get pregnant, and it can cause problems during pregnancy.

How do I keep my thyroid healthy? Whether you want to manage symptoms of a thyroid problem or prevent issues from starting, there are many ways you can care for your thyroid:

What is hypothyroidism? Also called an underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism means your thyroid does not make enough hormones. A slow metabolism, sensitivity to cold temperatures, joint or muscle pain, fatigue, a puffy face, feeling sad or depressed, dry skin, constipation, and weight gain are all common symptoms.

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, where the immune system attacks the thyroid and damages it so it cannot make enough hormones. You may also be at risk for hypothyroidism if you’ve had radiation treatment or your thyroid removed.

Treatment for hypothyroidism includes hormone replacement therapy, usually in pill form. Thyroxine (T4) is the most commonly prescribed thyroid hormone replacement, and it is generally taken once a day on an empty stomach. If you have hypothyroidism, you will likely have to take this medicine for the rest of your life; however, as long as you take these pills as prescribed, they are safe.

What is hyperthyroidism? The opposite of hypothyroidism,hyperthyroidism causes an overactive thyroid gland that produces too much thyroid hormone, speeding up the body’s functions. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder.

The main effect of this disorder—a faster metabolism—can cause issues like unexplained weight loss, irritability, anxiousness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, trouble sleeping, trembling hands or fingers, excessive sweating, muscle weakness, and feeling hot when others do not. Hyperthyroidism also raises your risk for osteoporosis, which causes weak bones that break easily.

Treatment depends on your symptoms, but it usually involves medicine, radioiodine, or surgery. Antithyroid medications prevent your thyroid from making more thyroid hormone, and beta blockers block the effects of thyroid hormone on your body. Radioiodine treatment kills the thyroid cells that produce thyroid hormones; this often causes permanent hypothyroidism. Surgery removes all or most of the thyroid, which can also cause permanent hypothyroidism.

What is thyroiditis? When the body’s immune system makes antibodies that attack the thyroid, your thyroid becomes inflamed. This is called thyroiditis. The two most common types of thyroiditis are Hashimoto’s disease and postpartum thyroiditis, or inflammation of the thyroid after giving birth. Causes of thyroiditis include autoimmune diseases, genetics, an infection, and certain types of medicines. Women with a history of postpartum thyroiditis are more likely to develop permanent hypothyroidism within 5 to 10 years.

Treatment of thyroiditis depends on the underlying cause.

What is a goiter? An enlarged thyroid gland, also called a goiter, causes swelling in the neck. This problem may resolve itself, but if swelling persists, you should see a doctor to determine if the goiter is caused by another thyroid disease such as Hashimoto’s, Graves’ disease, thyroid nodules, thyroiditis, or cancer.

If your thyroid functions normally and the symptoms don’t interfere with your daily life, you may not need treatment. If you do need treatment, medicine can help the thyroid shrink. In some cases, surgery might be needed to remove part of the thyroid.

What are thyroid nodules? If you have swelling in just one section of the thyroid gland, you might have a thyroid nodule. These nodules can be solid, filled with fluid, or filled with blood. Women are four times as likely to be affected by thyroid nodules than men.

Most nodules do not cause symptoms and are not cancerous. However, some nodules make too much thyroid hormone, causing hyperthyroidism. Nodules can also grow so big that they cause problems with swallowing or breathing.

Treatment for nodules depends on the size, severity, and type of nodule. If your nodule isn’t cancerous, your doctor may advise you to simply keep an eye on it and alert them if your condition changes. Cancerous or abnormally large nodules can be removed with surgery, and radioiodine treatment can help shrink nodules.

What is thyroid cancer? Thyroid cancer happens when cancer cells form from the tissues of the thyroid gland. It commonly starts as a nodule, or a lump in the neck. Women are three times more likely to get thyroid cancer.

Removing the thyroid gland is the primary treatment for thyroid cancer. If the tumor is small and hasn’t spread to lymph nodes, surgery alone can cure thyroid cancer. Radioiodine therapy can also be used after surgery to destroy any remaining cancer cells.

When should I talk to my doctor? Many thyroid problems can be easily managed with the right treatment, so it’s important to talk to your doctor if you think you have thyroid problems. You should schedule a visit with your doctor if:

  • If you have any symptoms listed above
  • If you have had thyroid problems in the past, or if you have a family history of thyroid problems
  • If you’ve had surgery or radiotherapy affecting the thyroid gland
  • If you have a condition such as a goiter, anemia, or Type 1 diabetes
  • If you feel a lump in your neck
  • If you think you have thyroid problems

For questions about thyroid problems or to discuss how to manage a thyroid disease, Frederick Health Endocrine & Thyroid is here to help. Don’t delay care—call your doctor today.