Thyroid conditions are fairly common, particularly amongst females, and affect a large proportion of the population. Women have a tendency to be affected more frequently than men because of the hormone changes within their bodies.
There are a wide number of different conditions that involve hormonal changes in the body, but there are many effective drugs and treatments. In a lot of cases, the illness may be chronic, meaning that the individual has to live with the effects for the rest of their life.
In some cases, the way in which the thyroid condition manifests can be quite troublesome, affecting many different aspects of the individual’s life and causing both emotional and physical symptoms.
Dealing with any kind of chronic illness can be exhausting, even when there’s medication you can take to help with the symptoms. However, a positive mental attitude can make a big difference to how you feel, even if it isn’t always easy to achieve.
The function of the thyroid
The thyroid gland is only small, being made from a large number of follicles, weighing approximately 25 grams and shaped like a small butterfly. It’s located at the base of the throat, and despite its small size, is the largest endocrine gland in the body.
The thyroid is responsible for regulating lots of different bodily functions, which is why when things goes wrong, the symptoms can be widespread and diverse.
Growth in children and reproduction in adults are two of the thyroid gland’s primary functions. It achieves its functions by releasing hormones known as thyroxine and triiodothyronine. These hormones are often released in greater quantities during sleep which is why it’s so important for children to get a good night’s rest.
Thyroid problems are eight times more likely to occur in women than in men, and occur particularly during pregnancy or shortly afterwards. The good news is, however, that thyroid diseases can normally be treated safely and easily.
Primary thyroid conditions
The function of the thyroid gland is overseen by the pituitary gland, another part of the endocrine system which is situated deep within the brain. The pituitary gland also produces hormones, and these in turn stimulate the thyroid gland, prompting it to spring into action. Excessive or insufficient amounts of hormones coming from the pituitary gland will result in either an underactive or overactive thyroid gland.
Underactive thyroid gland – hypothyroidism
An under active thyroid gland results in a condition known as hypothyroidism and is caused by a lack of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream. This can affect the metabolism within the body, forcing it to slow down.
Thyroiditis is one of the most common causes of hypothyroidism and is the result of inflammation from within the gland. It can also be known as Hashimoto’s Disease.
This type of thyroid condition confuses the immune system in the body and identifies the gland as something foreign, causing it to be attacked by white blood cells. In turn, the thyroid gland tries to defend itself by pumping out even more thyroid hormones which makes it swell it size and producing the distinctive lump in the neck, which is often associated with this condition.
Some of the symptoms hypothyroidism can cause include:
- Weight gain
- Menstrual changes
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Extreme sensitivity to the cold
- Muscular aches and pains
- Brittle and thin hair, possibly hair loss
Hypothyroidism can be treated extremely effectively with medication, bumping up the levels of thyroxine within the blood. It’s also possible to help yourself as well by increasing the amount of iodine in your diet.
Overactive thyroid gland – hyperthyroidism
When too much of the thyroid hormone is produced, a condition known as hyperthyroidism ensues. This is caused by an overactive gland and sends the metabolism racing, and in doing so, the body becomes unbalanced.
A frequent underlying cause of hyperthyroidism is Grave’s Disease. most commonly occurring between the ages of 20 and 40.
It can also arise as a result of certain types of medication, and lumps and nodules can develop around the thyroid. These are known as “hot nodules” and can go onto affect the thyroid gland further.
Some of the symptoms that hyperthyroidism can produce includes:
- weight loss
- nervousness and agitation
- tiredness and fatigue
- oversensitivity to heat
- menstrual changes
- more frequent bowel movements
Your doctor may prescribe treatment to dampen down the activity of the thyroid gland. In some cases minor surgery can be performed to eradicate part of the gland itself. In some cases this can cause the thyroid to become underactive, so it’s vital to be tested frequently to make sure your blood levels are where they should be.
A proper diet can also help, either on its own or in conjunction with medical treatment. Consult your doctor and follow their advice at all times.
Another cause of thyroid malfunction is lumps or a mass around the gland. Medical tests will be able to ascertain whether these lumps are malignant (cancerous) or benign.
Your thyroid gland and pregnancy
Because of the swings in hormone levels during pregnancy, thyroid symptoms and diseases are fairly common. Although it’s a fairly common occurrence, it’s important not to be complacent about thyroid conditions whilst pregnant as there’s a risk the unborn baby could be affected if not treated.
However, treatment is generally extremely effective and once started, can quickly bring the thyroid function under control. Do not even consider self-medicating or self-diagnosing during pregnancy: all supplements and treatment should be taken under the care of a medical practitioner at all times, as small changes in these hormones can have huge effects.
Diagnosing a thyroid problem
Any potential thyroid disorder can be easily diagnosed by your doctor with just a few routine examinations, and by taking a list of your symptoms.
Some of the factors a doctor might consider are:
- blood analysis
- ultrasound of the thyroid gland
- temperature and weight
- eye and skin examination
- the feel of the thyroid gland (examined by touching the skin on your throat while you swallow).
There are lots of very effective treatments for thyroid disorders and some can be completely cured. Others may turn out to be a chronic condition, but medication can help to control the symptoms to improve the quality of life. Eating a well-balanced diet, reducing stress, getting good quality sleep and following a healthy lifestyle are all highly recommended to help you keep your thyroid functioning and in tip-top condition.