Diseases of The Thyroid
Your Thyroid is a small gland with a huge job. The thyroid gland is located just below the muscles towards the front of your neck, just above the trachea. This little gland is responsible for manufacturing the hormones that control a persons growth and metabolism. The thyroid does its job using iodine the body has ingested in food or water. The Thyroid gland mixes the iodine with an amino acid called tyrosine to produce the hormones needed by the body. These hormones help to control sexual development, growth rate and bone structure as well as metabolism amongst other things. These important roles of the thyroid make it very important to promptly address any thyroid problems or thyroid diseases.
Thyroid disease happens when the thyroid gland is not supplying the correct amount of hormones to the body. When the thyroid gland is overactive, and flooding the body with too much thyroid hormones, it is called hyperthyroidism, and causes the body to use up energy much faster than normal. On the other hand, when the thyroid gland releases to little of the thyroid hormones into the bloodstream, causing the body's to use energy very slowly, it is called hypothyroidism.
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by several different things, but the symptoms themselves are usually the same in each case. Due to the rise in the metabolism, most people suffering from hyperthyroidism will feel considerably warmer than others. Other common symptoms include: hair and weight loss, trembling of the hands, insomnia, heat intolerance, nervousness, and heart palpitations. In severe cases of hyperthyroidism, patients can experience extreme muscle weakness, chest pains and shortness of breath. Many times these symptoms can come on very gradually, going on for months before a person realizes they are ill. The main three treatments for hyperthyroidism is anti-thyroid medication, radioactive iodine treatment or surgery. Methimazole and Propylthiouracil (PTU) are two common medications used to interfere with production of the thyroid hormone. These medications are usually very effective in getting the hyperthyroidism under control in just a few weeks, however the thyroid disease can return when medication is discontinued. Radioactive iodine treatment is the most recommended permanent treatment. It works by giving the thyroid doses of iodine that are radioactive, therefore killing off the gland itself. Surgical removal of the gland is less common, but can be very effective when only a portion of the gland is malfunctioning, and can be romoved while leaving the reast of the thyroid.
Hypothyroidism, the opposite of hyperthyroidism, can be caused by inflammation of the thyroid gland, causing it to fail in producing enough hormones for the body, as well as being caused by certain treatments such as radioactive iodine and surgery that were to correct an overactive thyroid. Sometimes too much of the glad is damaged or removed, causing too little hormone production. Both forms of thyroid disease share some common symptoms, such as fatigue, muscle weakness, hair loss and depression. However, hypothyroidism also has the symptoms of intolerance to cold temperatures, weight gain, decreased libido, memory loss, constipation and rough skin. Unfortunately, sometimes these symptoms can be very subtle, not alerting the person to anything being wrong. Left untreated, the symptoms will usually progress, and in some rare cases heart failure and/or coma can occur. For most people suffering with this form of thyroid disease, treatment is very simple. Taking a simple thyroid hormone pill such as Levothyroxine, once a day can return all the body's thyroid hormone to normal levels. For this form of treatment to be successful, however, the treatment is usually continued throughout life.
Another major concern in the area of thyroid diseases is cancer. According to the National Cancer Institute, around 37,000 new cases of thyroid cancer are reported in the United States each year. It usually starts out in a Thyroid nodule. Nodules themselves are extremely common, and over 95% of thyroid nodules are not cancerous, however, when cancer does begin to form and grow, it is usually inconspicuously inside a nodule. A simple and safe way to test the difference between a common non-malignant nodule, and cancer is by having a fine needle aspiration biopsy. This is a form of biopsy that requires no surgery, just removal of a few cells with a small needle. There are four main types of thyroid cancer; Papillary and/or mixed papillary/follicular (which is the most common type of thyroid cancer), Follicular and/or Hurthle cell(also very common), Medullary and lastly Anaplastic (which is the least common). The cure rate for the most common types of thyroid cancer are extremely high. Simple removal of the affected thyroid lobe, or of the entire gland usually takes care of the cancer in these cases. Medullary thyroid cancer is more complicated , and has a lower cure rate. With this type, the cancer spreads early on to lymph nodes. Treatment usually requires complete removal of the thyroid gland, as well as removal of lymph nodes of the side and front of the neck. Anaplastic thyroid cancer is almost always fatal, due to the fact that by the time it is diagnosed it has usually spread to a point that the cancer can not be removed. After a patient has undergone surgery for the thyroid cancer, they will undergo radioactive iodine treatments to get rid of any cancer cells that may be left.
Thyroid diseases and cancers can have devastating impacts if left untreated, but if detected early on, can be easily treated. Simple blood tests to measure the amount of thyroid hormones in the blood, iodine uptake tests and thyroid scans are all tools to help us monitor the thyroid gland, and detect and thyroid problems, allowing the proper treatment to be administered, and help the patient to continue leading a healthier life.