By: Donna Rogers (guest blog post)
Thyroid Disease refers to diseases and disorders that affect the Thyroid Gland, it’s functionality, or its physical structure. The Thyroid Gland is made up of two thyroid lobes that are joined in the middle by thin tissue (known as the isthmus,) making a butterfly shape. It sits around the trachea, or windpipe. There are several ways a patient can develop thyroid related diseases and abnormalities. Limited or excessive functions or changes to the physical structure are the issues that most frequently cause thyroid diseases.
The thyroid’s job is to use to create essential hormones. It uses Iodine to create Thyroxine, also known as T4. The T4 is sent to the body’s tissues through the bloodstream and then a small amount T4 is converted Triiodothyronine, also known as T3. When thyroid hormone levels become low, the brain releases another hormone called thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH). TRH tells the pituitary gland to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). When TSH is released, the thyroid makes more T4. This communication cycle, T4 to T3 to TRH to TSH is known as the hypothalamic–pituitary–thyroid axis. Thyroid hormone is important because it helps to regulate metabolism and digestion, brain development, heart health, muscle health and control, and bone health.
Thyroid disease occurs when the function or the structure becomes affected. One of the main occurrences of function issues with the thyroid is called Hypothyroidism. Hypothyroidism means the thyroid isn’t making enough T4. This can occur with problems anywhere along the line of the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid-axis.
Without enough thyroid hormone, people can start to feel tired, unfocused, and groggy. Their skin can become dry, they might start gaining weight and retaining water. They could frequently feel cold or achy and might even start developing depression. Women with Hypothyroidism may start to experience menstrual abnormalities like excessive bleeding or longer periods. Hypothyroidism is one of the most common types of thyroid disease. Women are more likely to develop thyroid issues with age, in fact, the prevalence for thyroid disease development is as high as one in eight women. Women are between five and eight times more likely than men to develop thyroid problems in their lifetime.
One of the most common causes of Hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. Named for the scientist who discovered it, Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland and healthy thyroid cells instead of protecting them. When this happens, the thyroid gland becomes damaged and inflamed, and is unable to produce T4. Without T4, the body starts to develop Hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism is what happens when the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone. This overabundance, like hypothyroidism, can occur along any point of the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid-axis. Unlike Hypothyroidism, however, too much thyroid hormone causes excessive or unexplained weight loss, a quickened heart rate, tremors, anxiety, exhaustion, nervousness, sweating, and more frequent bowel movements.
A common cause of Hyperthyroidism in women under 40 years old is called Graves Disease. Graves disease refers to an immune response complication that causes the thyroid to overproduce thyroid hormones. The symptoms of Graves disease are much like the overall symptoms for general hyperthyroidism, where patients might notice sudden unexplained weight loss, anxiety and tremors, heart palpitations, irritability and anxiety, lowered libido or sexual dysfunctions, and menstrual changes. If the patient has Graves disease, they may also experience a reddened, rashy thick skin on the tops of their feet or on their shins. This skin disorder is known as Graves’ Demopathy. If the patient is a smoker, they’re also at a higher risk of developing Graves’ Ophthalmopathy, a condition where their eyes bulge forward, their eyelids retract, and the whites of their eyes are reddened.
A patient who develops a thyroid condition, whether it be one from too much thyroid hormone or from too little, becomes at risk to develop a goiter. A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland that is large enough that it can be seen in the neck. Some goiters are harmless, but others can constrict or restrict the esophagus or the trachea. This can affect the patient’s ability to breathe or cause coughing or choking. In some severe cases, it can displace a patient’s windpipe.
An abnormal growth that appears in the thyroid is known as a thyroid nodule. Unlike goiters where the thyroid itself becomes inflamed, a nodule refers to a growth on the thyroid. Many nodules are benign and can be left alone, but all nodules should be examined by a doctor to make sure they aren’t malignant. Nodules can be a form of thyroid cancer, a disease more prevalent with higher age groups. Thyroid cancer, like all cancers is serious and should be treated by a medical professional, but most thyroid cancers have a high survival rate.
Structural issues like cancer, nodules and goiters, or function issues like hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism are the different types of diseases that a patient can develop in their thyroid gland. Knowing the symptoms is the first step to treating thyroid issues of all kinds.