4 Common Thyroid Disorders
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck below the Adam's apple. It is part of a complex network of glands called the endocrine system, which is responsible for coordinating many of the body's activities. The thyroid gland manufactures hormones that regulate the body's metabolism (the process of creating and using energy). When the thyroid produces too much (hyperthyroidism) or not enough (hypothyroidism) hormone, several problems can occur.
Also known as chronic lymphatic thyroiditis, Hashimoto's disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) in the United States. It can occur at any age but is most common in middle-age women. The disease occurs when the body's immune system attacks and slowly destroys the thyroid gland and its capacity to produce hormone.Symptoms
Mild cases of Hashimoto's disease sometimes present no recognizable symptoms, and the disease can remain stable for years. Symptoms are often subtle, and they are not specific, which means they mimic symptoms of many other conditions, and include:
Tests and Diagnosis
- Mild weight gain
- Dry skin and/or hair
- Heavy and irregular menstruation
- Intolerance to cold
- Enlarged thyroid (goiter)
Testing the level of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) is often the initial step when screening for any type of thyroid disorder. If a patient is showing several of the above symptoms, a doctor might order a blood test to check for increased levels of TSH and also low levels of thyroid hormone (T3 or T4). Because Hashimoto's disease is an autoimmune disorder, the blood test would also reveal the presence of abnormal antibodies that might be attacking the thyroid.Treatment and Prognosis
There is no known cure for Hashimoto's disease. However, hormone-replacing medication is often used to raise thyroid hormone levels (or lower TSH levels) and, thus, minimize the symptoms of the disease. In rare advanced cases of goiter (an enlarged thyroid), surgery might be necessary to remove part or all of the thyroid gland. Because the disease progresses slowly, it is usually detected at an early stage, remains stable for years, and is easily treated with hormone replacement therapy.