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Thyroid Disease

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Thyroid Disease is fairly common among the general population. Thyroid function can either be low or high (hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism) and is often misdiagnosed or not tested for because the symptoms can be very mild or they can be confused with some other conditions. The thyroid gland is located in the neck. Our body's metabolism is dependent on the thyroid gland.

What are the symptoms of thyroid disease and how will it affect my body? Thyroid disease can give many symptoms depending on if you have hypothyroidism(low thyroid function) or hyperthyroidism (high thyroid function).

What is hypothyroidism? Hypothyroidism is a condition in which there is low thyroid function. There are two main causes of this condition:

  • Autoimmune disease: There can be a destruction of thyroid cells after a viral disease leading to your own body attacking your own thyroid cells, leading to destruction and loss in function or diminished function of the thyroid gland
     
  • Medical treatments: The other common cause will be surgery such as in thyroid cancer, resection of a nodule or treatment with radioactive iodine
     
  • Symptoms for hypothyroidism can include but will not be limited to fatigue, weakness, low heart beat, dry skin and hair, difficulty losing weight , depression, constipation, memory loss, decrease sexual drive, among others. Signs and symptoms can be variable depending on the remaining function of the thyroid gland
     
  • Treatment consists of supplementation with thyroid hormone which is individualized for each patient and periodic evaluation

What is hyperthyroidism? It is a condition in which there is high thyroid function.  It has several causes. One cause can be diffuse enlargement of the gland, a solitary nodule,  inflammation of the thyroid gland, and occasionally cancer. Signs and symptoms for hyperthyroidism are fatigue, a fast heart rate, diarrhea, heat intolerance, nervousness, trembling hands,  insomnia,  warm and moist sometimes thick skin, weight loss despite eating more or sometimes weight gain because of increased eating, and protruding eyes, among others. Treatments are available for this condition and can include medicine, radioactive iodine andor surgery.

What are the risk factors for thyroid disease?

The risk factors are several and listed below:

  • Family history of thyroid disease
  • Being a woman: Women get affected with thyroid disease more than men
  • Being over 50: It is more common to affect people over 50 years old, but can affect people of any age
  • Thyroid surgery
  • Treatment with radioactive iodine
  • Radiation treatments
  • Smoking
  • Pregnancy: There is a change in hormonal levels in pregnant women, sometimes altering the thyroid hormone levels, though most of the time is temporary

What should I do if I think I have thyroid disease? The first step is to go to your doctor. He/she can make a diagnosis based on your clinical history, laboratory and sometimes imaging tests. Once this is done treatment can be started immediately if there is thyroid disease.

Having a once a year physical exam and blood test to screen for thyroid problems is highly recommended.

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