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The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped gland that seats just in front of the neck. Its duty is to produce thyroid hormones i.e., thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones play an important role in regulation of your weight, energy levels, internal temperature, skin, hair, nail growth, metabolism and is an important part of the endocrine system. Diseases of the thyroid often result in an overactive or underactive thyroid gland.
An underactive thyroid gland is one that does not produce enough thyroid hormones, this is referred to as Hypothyroidism. The symptoms of hypothyroidism tend to develop slowly over time and get worse with increasing severity. These include extreme tiredness, muscle weakness, weight gain, puffy face and constipation. In severe cases it can result in a very slow heart rate and depression.
The diagnosis of hypothyroidism is made by doing specific blood tests that measure the levels of thyroid hormones. Once the diagnosis is confirmed the treatment can be initiated. In addition, several tests can de bone thereafter in order to confirm the cause of the low thyroid hormone state. The treatment of hypothyroidism is replacement of the thyroid hormone. This treatment is often lifelong. It is important to do regular blood test to monitor the levels of the thyroid hormone with replacement.
Hyperthyroidism on the other hand is due to an over active thyroid gland that produces excess thyroid hormone. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism are due to speeding up of the metabolism. These include, weight loss, sweating, heat intolerance, tremors, palpitations, irregular heart beat and irregular menstruation. In some patients a swelling at the base of the neck, referred to as a goitre may develop.
The commonest cause of Hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune condition in which the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. The prompts the body to produce more thyroid hormones. Other causes of hyperthyroidism are nodules, which can be multiple nodules or a single solitary nodule. The other condition which commonly causes hyperthyroidism is thyroiditis which is inflammation of the thyroid gland.
The diagnosis is also based on doing confirmatory blood tests and doing further investigations to confirm the cause of the hyperthyroidism. These investigations include thyroid ultrasound, thyroid uptake scan and in certain instances a biopsy. The treatment involves usage of medications that lowers the thyroid hormone. The underlying cause needs to be found and managed appropriately. When complications like palpitations or heart failure are present then they need to be treated appropriately.
Thyroid disease can be debilitating if not picked up early and treated properly. It is important to pick up the symptoms early and to seek help.