From hypothyroidism to hyperthyroidism and everything in between
Your thyroid is a gland in the front of your neck. It sits right below your voice box. Both men and women have thyroid glands. However, the thyroid can cause more problems with a woman’s health.
The small, butterfly-shaped gland controls your metabolism and other ways your body works. The thyroid creates specific hormones that your body uses to make energy. The thyroid and hormones affect:
- Your menstrual cycle
- Your cholesterol levels
- Your body temperature
- How fast your heart beats
- How deeply you can breathe
- How much weight you lose or gain
The gland can cause problems as you get older. Sometimes it produces too much or too few of the hormones you need. Or, it changes size.
Common thyroid issues
There are two major problems the thyroid causes:
- Hyperthyroidism: When your thyroid makes too much of a hormone, your metabolism speeds up and you lose weight. Both men and women can get hyperthyroidism.
- Hypothyroidism: When your thyroid doesn’t make enough hormones, your metabolism slows down and you gain weight. The condition is much less common in men than women, though doctors aren’t sure why.
Another condition — called a goiter — happens when your thyroid swells up. Or, you can get a goiter if your body doesn’t have enough iodine, a chemical that helps your thyroid work correctly. A goiter makes a noticeable bulge in your neck. A goiter may cause you to cough and sound hoarse. A thyroid can also make too many hormones and cause a cancerous nodule to form on the gland.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism
The symptoms of hypothyroidism in both men and women include:
- Feeling cold
- Sluggish libido
- Gaining weight
- Feeling sluggish
- Feeling depressed
- A pale, puffy face
- Dry skin and brittle nails
Sometimes Hashimoto’s disease causes hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune condition. Your immune system attacks your thyroid gland. This inflames the gland and causes it to make fewer hormones than your body needs to function.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism for men and women include:
- Hair loss
- Weight loss
- Racing heart
- Feeling irritable
- General weakness
Sometimes Graves’ disease causes hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition. Your immune system attacks your thyroid gland, causing it to make more hormones than you need.
Diagnosing thyroid problems
An endocrinologist is the doctor who specializes in diagnosing and treating thyroid problems. Many symptoms of thyroid issues are common complaints. A doctor can’t make a diagnosis on symptoms alone. They need you to take blood tests.
To diagnose hypothyroidism, your doctor orders a TSH test and T4 test to measure the hormones in your system. The results help your doctor understand how your thyroid works.
To diagnose hyperthyroidism, your doctor orders a couple of tests. One test is called a radio iodine uptake test. This test sees how much iodine collects in your thyroid gland to produce hormones. The rate of how much iodine your thyroid gland absorbs over a period of a few hours helps determine the health of your thyroid. In addition, you’ll have a thyroid scan. The doctor injects a radioactive isotope into your hand or elbow. Sometimes you can take it orally. After you get the isotope, a technician takes an image of your thyroid gland to see how much the gland absorbs.
Treatments for thyroid problems
The treatment for hypothyroidism is the daily use of a synthetic thyroid hormone called levothyroxine. It restores hormone levels and eases the symptoms. However, your doctor may need to tweak the dosage over time. Frequent blood tests can show if a dosage change is necessary. There are no side effects of this treatment.
There are more choices to treat hyperthyroidism, including:
- Beta blockers, which can ease a rapid heart rate
- Radioactive iodine, taken orally, which can cause the gland to shrink and ease symptoms
- Anti-thyroid medications, which can reduce symptoms and stop your gland from producing too much of the hormone
Treatments for either thyroid condition are safe. Doctors can remove most of your thyroid in surgery, but they recommend this only rarely.
Living with thyroid problems
It’s easy, and important, to treat your thyroid problem. Untreated thyroid conditions can cause further health complications over time, including heart problems, infertility, bone thinning and mental health conditions. Untreated hypothyroidism can cause myxedema, or extreme hypothyroidism.
Do you think you may have a thyroid condition? Visit mercy.com to make an appointment with a primary care doctor or an endocrinologist to find out.