Thyroid disease impacts about 20 million Americans, but many don’t even know they have it.
Your thyroid creates and produces hormones that play a role in many different systems throughout your body. When your thyroid makes either too much or too little of these hormones, it’s called thyroid disease. There are several different types of thyroid disease, including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, thyroiditis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
We’re here with what you should know about thyroid disease, its warning signs and what causes it.
What is Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid disease is the term for a group of medical conditions that keep your thyroid from making the right amount of hormones. A healthy thyroid produces hormones that keep your body functioning normally.
When the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone, your body uses energy too quickly — this is called hyperthyroidism. Along with making you tired, hyperthyroidism can make your heart beat faster, cause you to lose weight without trying and make you feel anxious.
Your thyroid can also make too little thyroid hormone — and this is called hypothyroidism. When you don’t have enough thyroid hormone in your body, it can make you feel tired, you might gain weight and you may have trouble tolerating cold temperatures.
These two main disorders can be caused by a variety of conditions and can also be passed down through families.
What are the Warning Signs of Thyroid Disease?
If you are experiencing the following problems, schedule an appointment with your primary care doctor as early as possible so you can get tested for thyroid disease. The earlier you start treatment, the better.
- Difficulty With Temperature Changes: If your thyroid does not make enough hormones, you might have difficulty handling colder temperatures. When your thyroid gland is too active, you might have difficulty enduring hot weather.
- Digestive Issues: Hyperthyroidism can cause very loose stools. Alternatively, hypothyroidism can cause constipation.
- Mood Issues: If your thyroid makes excessive amounts of hormones, you might find yourself more angry or frustrated. You may be anxious about your career, relationships and other aspects of your life.
- Skin Problems: If you are suffering from hypothyroidism, your skin may become dry. If you have hyperthyroidism, your skin may become oily.
- Weight Fluctuations: If your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormones, your metabolism could slow down, which may cause you to gain weight quickly. You may have trouble shedding those extra pounds with diet and exercise. In contrast, hyperthyroidism could speed up your metabolism and cause you to suddenly lose weight.
What Causes Thyroid Disease?
The two main types of thyroid disease are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Both conditions can be caused by other diseases that impact the way the thyroid gland works.
Illnesses or conditions that can cause hyperthyroidism are:
- Excessive iodine
- Graves’ disease
- Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland)
Illnesses or conditions that may cause hypothyroidism are:
- A non-functioning thyroid gland
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
- Iodine deficiency
- Postpartum thyroiditis (usually temporary)
- Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland)
Those with diabetes are at greater risk of developing thyroid disease. Since Type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disease, it makes you more likely to develop another one. For those with Type 2 diabetes, the risk is lower, but you would still be more likely to develop thyroid disease later in life.
Since genetics play a role, if you have family members with thyroid disease, this puts you at a higher risk for developing it yourself.
What Should You Do if You Suspect You Have Thyroid Disease?
Finding a skilled doctor is an important part of your treatment plan. Your doctor will order a blood test for thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH, also called serum thyrotropin) that is used to screen for thyroid problems. Because TSH stimulates production of your thyroid hormones, TSH is high when your body is not making enough thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism) and low when it makes too much (hyperthyroidism).
Medications, radioactive iodine or surgery to remove the gland are treatment options for hyperthyroidism. If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can cause bone loss or an irregular heartbeat.
For hypothyroidism, while there is currently no cure, there are medications that can treat the disease. The goal of the medication is to treat the symptoms, improve your body’s thyroid function, restore hormone levels and allow you to live a more fulfilling, normal life.
Expertise and Compassion for Endocrine Issues
If you find you’re experiencing symptoms of thyroid disease that are impacting your daily life, your doctor can order the right tests to check your thyroid. If you should need further evaluation and treatment, you may be referred to an endocrinologist for specialized care. Learn more about our endocrinology program here.