Having a healthy thyroid is important to your overall health. It produces two hormones that are key to managing metabolism, digestion, body temperature and heart health.
“The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck that secretes its hormones into the bloodstream and throughout the body,” said Steven Cathcart, DO, of Samaritan Endocrinology in Corvallis. “These hormones affect all of your cells and every organ in your body.”
When functioning properly, your thyroid maintains the right number of hormones to keep your metabolism and other bodily functions working normally.
If your thyroid is not working correctly, it can negatively impact your entire body, including your metabolism, heart rate, energy level, bone health and mood.
Common Warning Signs
Thyroid issues are common. While they occur more frequently in older women, they can affect anyone.
“A family history of thyroid disease or certain medical conditions such as Type 1 Diabetes, lupus, anemia or rheumatoid arthritis can put you at a greater risk for thyroid disease,” said Dr. Cathcart.
Being over the age or 60 or using medication high in iodine can also put you at risk, added Dr. Cathcart.
Thyroid disease falls into two main categories: Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
“Hypothyroidism is when you have an underactive thyroid that does not make enough hormones, slowing down important bodily functions,” said Dr. Cathcart.
- Weight gain.
- Dry or coarse hair.
- Having a hoarse voice.
- Being sensitive to the cold.
- Slow heart rate.
“On the other hand, if your thyroid is overactive and making too much of the hormones, it is called hyperthyroidism,” said Dr. Cathcart.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Weight loss.
- Feeling anxious or irritable.
- Muscle weakness.
- Vision problems.
- Frequent urination.
- Thin skin.
- Having an enlarged thyroid gland also known as a goiter.
- Being sensitive to heat.
“Symptoms of thyroid disease can often be mistaken for other conditions,” said Dr. Cathcart. The good news is your doctor can run a blood test to evaluate if your thyroid levels are normal if you are having symptoms.”
Diagnosis & Treatment
If you have signs of thyroid disease, your doctor will order thyroid function tests, which are blood tests that evaluate the function of your thyroid gland and hormone levels.
“Your hormone levels will tell your doctor if you have overproduction or an underproduction of thyroid hormones and determine the type of treatment that is needed,” said Dr. Cathcart. “In both instances, the goal of treatment is to restore and balance hormone levels.”
Hypothyroidism is typically treated with thyroid hormone-replacement medication, which compensates for the low levels of naturally occurring hormones in your body.
Treatment for hyperthyroidism is designed to slow down the production of the thyroid hormone.
“This can be achieved with anti-thyroid medication or radioactive iodine pill therapy,” said Dr. Cathcart. “In some cases, surgery may be needed to remove the thyroid gland, especially if cancer is suspected.”
If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can cause bone loss or an irregular heartbeat, stroke, blood clots or heart issues.
“While thyroid disease isn’t always preventable, with early diagnosis it can be successfully managed and serious complications can be avoided,” said Dr. Cathcart.
For more information about thyroid disease, visit www.thyroid.org.