The Role Of The Thyroid

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. This gland is crucial for producing hormones that control vital functions in the body, such as metabolism. However, if the thyroid produces too much of these hormones, a person may develop a condition called hyperthyroidism. If a person produces too little of these hormones, this may indicate a condition called hypothyroidism. What are the signs of these thyroid diseases?

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Signs of hyperthyroidism

An overactive thyroid can cause anxiousness, muscle weakness, or unexplained weight loss. People with this condition may feel jittery and overheat quickly. In women, hyperthyroidism may lead to menstrual irregularities or stopped periods.

Signs of hypothyroidism

Conversely, an overactive thyroid can lead to sluggishness, unexplained weight gain, and fatigue. A person may experience memory issues, dry or coarse hair, or intolerance to cold temperatures. Women with hypothyroidism may see an increase in the frequency or heaviness of menstrual periods.

Who gets thyroid disease?

People of all genders and ages can develop thyroid disease. For some people, a thyroid condition is present at birth. For others, the disease develops later in life, such as after menopause. Postpartum thyroiditis is also common in women after childbirth and tends to be temporary. Though anyone can have thyroid disease, women are 5-8 times more likely to suffer from thyroid irregularities than men. Other risk factors include:

  • Specific medical conditions, such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
  • Taking medications high in iodine
  • Having a family history of thyroid disease
  • Being older than 60, especially for women

Treatment options

For either hypo- or hyperthyroidism, the treatment usually includes medication to regulate hormones. For people with hyperthyroidism, treatment may also include beta-blockers to treat symptoms of the condition. In some cases, people may also opt for surgery to remove most or all of the thyroid.

What can I do?

People who are at higher risk of thyroid disease should get regular testing to check for thyroid issues. Specifically, if someone has diabetes, either type 1 or type 2, or an autoimmune disorder, testing should be done at least once a year. To improve health as much as possible, people should focus on getting enough sleeping, eating a nutritious diet, and exercising regularly. Anyone who is experiencing the signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism should see a family medicine healthcare provider. These professionals can provide further testing and treatment options.