What is thyroid disease?
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck. It produces two hormones, thyroxine (T-4) and triiodothyronine (T-3), that support functions like:
• Processing fats and carbohydrates
• Maintaining body temperature
• Protein production
• Conserving bone health
• Aiding in metabolism
The gland also produces calcitonin, which helps process calcium for our bones.
Normally, your thyroid produces the hormones necessary to keep your body operating. When there is a malfunction of any kind in the thyroid gland, it affects hormone production as a result and causes thyroid disease. Thyroid gland hormones influence the functioning of virtually every cell in the body; so, any impairment can put the body off-balance.
Your body consumes energy too quickly when the thyroid gland produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormone. It is known as hyperthyroidism. More than just making you fatigued, using energy too rapidly can also cause your heart to beat faster, make you lose weight unintentionally, and perhaps even make you feel anxious.
By contrast, your thyroid may produce insufficient thyroid hormones. It is known as hypothyroidism. Having underactive-thyroid can cause you to feel sleepy, make you gain weight, and make it difficult for you to withstand cold temperatures. Both conditions can get out of hand if not treated and can affect the functioning of the body.
Some thyroid conditions are also autoimmune, which occur because of the body attacking itself. Think of it as a glitch in the code, which can be rectified with medication, surgery, or some other kind of rehabilitative therapy.
Anyone can develop the thyroid disease, including men, women, children, teenagers, and the elderly. It might develop as you get older (after menopause in women), or it can be present at birth (usually hypothyroidism).
Other thyroid diseases you should know about are thyroid nodules, which are solid or fluid-filled lumps that develop in the thyroid gland. These lumps are common, noncancerous, and almost never have any symptoms. They are more common in women than men. You can get the nodules checked out from a doctor if you are experiencing any discomfort.
Goitre is a common thyroid disease, especially when you do not consume iodine. A goitre is a lump or swelling that develops at the base of the neck because of an enlarged thyroid. A lump in your neck is the most obvious symptom of a goitre. The bulge may even be seen from the side if it is huge. It could feel soft to the touch. Sometimes, especially if the goitre is small, there are no accompanying symptoms. Other times, the enlarged gland might push on the oesophagus or windpipe, resulting in symptoms like a tight or constricted feeling, cough, hoarseness, or breathing difficulty during or after swallowing. Reduced neck mobility may also result from a big goitre.
Thyroiditis is an inflammation of the thyroid gland caused when antibodies attack the thyroid cells. You can consider this condition an autoimmune disease just like type 1 diabetes and rheumatoid arthritis. This is also known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Hashimoto’s disease, chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, and autoimmune thyroiditis. Hashimoto’s disease can lead to hypothyroidism.
Thyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer that develops when cells mutate at an abnormal rate. It can occur as a nodule or a solid mass in the thyroid gland. There are different types of thyroid cancers, but papillary thyroid cancer and follicular thyroid cancer are the most common. Thyroid cancer responds well to treatment and there is a good survival rate depending on the stage at which it was found and diagnosed.
The symptoms of thyroid disease in women and thyroid symptoms in males are the same.
• Getting easily cold
• Weight gain
• Sluggish movements
• Memory problems
• Muscle cramps
• Dry and scaly skin
• Brittle nails
• Thinning hair
• Decline or loss of libido
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
• Irregular menstrual cycle, where periods can also be heavy
• Muscle and joint pain
Hypothyroidism develops slowly; so, the thyroid signs are not immediately noticeable. You might just realise that you are experiencing some or all these problems over a course of months, even years. You might not even consider problems such as weight gain, depression, and irregular periods, as symptoms of hypothyroidism.
• Sudden or unexplained weight loss
• Feeling nervous, irritable, and anxious
• Increased sweating
• Increased or irregular heart rate
• Trouble sleeping
• Frequent bowel movements
• Hand tremors
• Irregular and/or light menstrual periods
• Impairment in libido
There are usually no symptoms experienced when thyroid nodules occur. They are also only visible when there is a small cluster of nodules or a large nodule growth. Because they are noncancerous, you should not be too worried about their presence. However, there are rare cases when the nodules might press against the windpipe or the oesophagus, causing symptoms like:
• Discomfort while breathing and swallowing
• Hoarseness and changes in voice
• Noisy breathing in the night
• Discomfort when you’re lying down in certain positions
• Food getting stuck in the throat
There can be no symptoms at all with goitre but the most prominent one is having a swelling or lump in the neck. This lump is usually painless and is not serious. But you should go to the doctor and get it checked anyway to rule out the possibility of anything grave.
Besides iodine deficiency, goitre can be caused by hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, thyroiditis, and thyroid nodules. People who are going through menopause, puberty, or pregnancy might also get goitre. Moreover, the autoimmune disease like Grave’s disease can lead to this condition. In rare instances, thyroid cancer can also cause goitre.
• You should be concerned if you are experiencing symptoms like:
• Restricted breathing
• Difficulty swallowing
• Feeling that something is stuck in your throat
• Wheezing sound while breathing
The reasons why these symptoms might occur is the goitre is pushing against your trachea and your food pipe.
At the beginning, thyroid cancer may not show any signs. However, as it develops, it may display signs like neck swelling, voice changes, and trouble swallowing.
There are lots of types of thyroid cancer. Even while some types can be quite predatory, the majority develop slowly. Treatment is often effective in curing thyroid cancers.
The common symptoms that should concern you are:
• A prominent nodule that you can feel on your neck
• Tightly fitting shirt collars are becoming too restrictive
• Your voice changing, which becomes hoarser and does not get better
• Having trouble swallowing
• Neck lymph nodes that are swollen
• Throat and neck discomfort
Papillary and follicular thyroid cancers are common, with the former found more than the latter. They are also known as differentiate thyroid cancers. The reasons why thyroid cancers might happen are varied. You can already have a thyroid disease if you have a family history of thyroid cancer, obesity, and/or radiation exposure, among other conditions.
Other symptoms of thyroid disease
Psychological symptoms: Anxiety or depression are typical thyroid imbalance signs that impact your mood. Mood changes are more severe depending on the severity of the thyroid disease.
With hypothyroidism, you may also have trouble sleeping, lack of concentration, decline in motivation, taking on excess stress, and a short temper. With hyperthyroidism you may experience anxiety and panic attacks, mood swings, sleep issues, and getting angry easily.
Sexual dysfunction: Both men and women can experience a lack of libido with thyroid disease. Men may have erectile dysfunction and ejaculation issues. While women may experience pain during sex due to vaginal dryness, and even hypoactive sexual desire disorder wherein there is no desire for physical intimacy or sexual fantasies.
Once the thyroid disease has been treated, thyroid-disease-related sexual problems usually go away. The same methods that work for sexual dysfunction in can be used to handle issues the thyroid-related ones as well.
Different thyroid diseases require different treatment plans.
Hypothyroidism: Levothyroxine-containing hormone replacement tablets are typically taken daily to treat hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid. The thyroxine hormone, which your thyroid cannot produce enough, is replaced by levothyroxine. You will first have routine blood testing up until you reach the ideal levothyroxine dosage. Getting this properly can take some time.
You will need to manage the symptoms and your thyroid hormone levels throughout your life so that the condition does not cause any adverse effects to your body. The dosage of the medication can vary over your lifetime. Follow-up appointments with your doctors, followed by maintaining a certain nutritional level in your diet and having an active lifestyle are also helpful.
Hyperthyroidism: Usually, an endocrinologist steps in to tackle this condition. The three options for treatment are: medication, radioactive iodine treatment, and surgery.
You will be prescribed thionamides to stop your thyroid gland from overproducing the thyroid hormone. Along with that, you may also be prescribed a beta blocker.
Radioactive iodine treatment is radiotherapy that destroys the thyroid cells overproducing the hormone or it shrinks the enlarged thyroid gland. The term “radioactive” might alarm you, but this method is safe, and tried and tested in its effectiveness. This treatment is administered with an oral capsule and requires no hospitalisation. That can happen though if the dosage is high. Most patients usually require a single dosage to fix their hyperthyroidism, but some may require a second one. This is usually given after a gap of six months.
The last option is surgery, which is usually the last resort when the abovementioned steps are of no avail. Your thyroid gland may be removed altogether (thyroidectomy) if the situation is grave, but that can lead to hypothyroidism, which will require lifelong hormone therapy.
Goitre: Most goitres are tiny, harmless and do not require treatment. In most cases, testing including blood tests and an ultrasound scan can determine the cause of your goitre. It is typically treatable with medications if it is brought on by a medical issue, such as an underactive or hyperactive thyroid. You could need surgery to have a part or all of your thyroid gland removed if your goitre is making it difficult for you to breathe and swallow.
Thyroid nodules: If the nodules are benign (noncancerous), then you will be asked to wait and watch your condition for any changes. Then, you might be prescribed thyroid hormones, and the last option is surgery. Surgery is usually rare when it comes to thyroid nodules.
Thyroid cancer: Depending on the type of thyroid cancer you have; your doctor will decide which treatment you need. The treatment decision also depends on the stage at which the cancer was detected and diagnosed. Generally, thyroid cancers are treated with:
• Surgery – Thyroidectomy removes a portion or the entirety of the thyroid gland
• Hormone therapy – This therapy prevents the release of hormones that promote the growth or recurrence of cancer.
• Radioactive iodine treatment – You ingest a radioactive material in a capsule form that destroys the cancer cells as it circulates through your blood.
• External radiotherapy – Radiation beams are directed at the cancer cells using a machine to render them dysfunctional.
• Chemotherapy – A common form of cancer therapy, which is either given orally or intravenously. However, very few patients with thyroid cancer need chemotherapy.
What are the most common thyroid symptoms?
The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include fatigue, cold sensitivity, unexplained weight gain, and extremely dry and flaky skin. This condition can also cause heavy, irregular, or absent periods in women.
The major symptoms of hyperthyroidism are unexpected weight loss, irregular heartbeat, sweating, and irritability. Mood swings, and goitre can also be present. Many women will experience irregular or a decreased period flow.
Is having pale skin an anaemia symptom?
Paleness or pallor is a possibility when you have anaemia, and it is different from having a naturally light skin tone. Some people have naturally pale skin, which is genetic and not a cause for concern. However, in anaemia, this unusual lightness to the skin is brought by the lack of red blood cells. This means that enough oxygen is not being delivered throughout the body.
Is chest pain an anaemia symptom?
Yes, you can experience chest pain and palpitations because of serious iron deficiency. You may also have tiredness and shortness of breath.
Are thyroid symptoms different in adults and children?
The thyroid symptoms in adults and children can vary. Children who have hypothyroidism, or an underactive thyroid gland may have:
• Growth rate may be slower as compared to their peers
• Sluggishness and fatigue
• Sensitivity to cold
• Unhealthy, pale appearance
• Dry and itchy scalp
• Swollen hands and feet
• Heavy periods in adolescent girls
• Dry, flaky skin
• Brittle hair and nails
• Mood swings
• Weight gain
• Poor muscle tone
• Hoarse voice
If the thyroid disease is not addressed, it can lead to stunted physical growth and even mental and cognitive impairment.