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
“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,
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
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.