Thyroid disease is an under-recognized problem that can profoundly affect your day-to-day life. Getting the right treatment can be so transformative that patients will often say, “I didn’t realize how bad I was feeling for all of those years.”
Researchers estimate that thyroid disease affects as many as 10% of adults in the United States. Yet millions of Americans remain undiagnosed.
What are the symptoms to keep an eye out for? The red flags of thyroid disease are unexplained weight gain or weight loss, depression or anxiety, palpitations, and sweating.
However, these symptoms aren’t specific to thyroid disorders, so a blood test is necessary to make a diagnosis.
Another sign of a thyroid problem is a lump in the neck that you can feel, which may indicate that you have developed a nodule, or small growth, on your thyroid. This diagnosis is confirmed by an ultrasound exam and may involve taking a biopsy.
To understand thyroid disease, it helps to understand what the thyroid is and which functions it is responsible for.
The thyroid is a crucial gland that sits in the neck, on the voice box. People often compare its shape to a butterfly or the letter H, with two side lobes connected by a crossbar. The gland releases thyroid hormones that are needed by cells throughout the body, affecting organs as disparate as the heart, brain, kidneys, and skin.
In turn, the thyroid is controlled by the pituitary gland, behind the nose, which sends signals telling the thyroid how much hormone to release. So we can measure thyroid function in part by measuring the hormone TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone), which the pituitary gland uses to regulate the thyroid.
There are two main types of thyroid disease. The first type consists of problems with thyroid function, most commonly hypothyroid disorder, also known as thyroid failure.
When you don’t have enough thyroid hormone, you tend to gain weight and feel depressed. You can even lose consciousness, but usually we catch it long before that.
What causes the thyroid to produce insufficient thyroid hormone? Most of the time, hypothyroidism is the result of an autoimmune disease, in which the body’s immune system has begun to attack itself.
The opposite problem is becoming hyperthyroid, in which the gland produces too much thyroid hormone. People with this condition tend to be anxious and inexplicably lose weight. Graves’ disease is one kind…