Thyroid – Hypothyroidism, Hyperthyroidism and Goiter

22 January, 2019

The thyroid is a pretty butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck, just above the collar bone. It is among the four endocrine glands in the body which makes, stores and releases hormones such as T3, T4 and calcitonin into the bloodstream. These hormones control the rate of metabolism, growth, speed of heartbeat and how fast calories are burnt.

The thyroid cells are the only cells in the body that can absorb iodine from food that we consume and use it to make hormones. These thyroid hormones affect the metabolic processes in virtually every organ in the body. While the symptoms of most thyroid diseases can be distressful, they can be easily managed with medication.

Some of the problems associated with this gland include hyperthyroidism where the gland produces more hormones than the body needs, hypothyroidism when the body doesn’t produce enough hormones and goiter where the gland gets enlarged due to various reasons and could interfere with swallowing, coughing, talking, etc.

Hyperthyroidism – This results from an excessive production of thyroid hormones and may be stimulated by the following conditions:

  • Graves’s disease: An autoimmune disorder that leads to production of too much hormone.
  • Toxic adenomas: Or toxic multi-nodular goiter where the nodules upset the body’s chemical balance by excessive production of thyroid hormones.
  • Subacute thyroiditis: This refers to an inflammation of the gland causing excessive hormones to leak out; this is usually a temporary condition that lasts a few weeks.
  • Pituitary gland malfunction or cancerous growths: This is a rare cause of hyperthyroidism.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include palpitations, anxiety, nervousness, increased appetite, decreased weight, decreased tolerance to heat, etc.

Hypothyroidism – This results from an under-productive thyroid gland. Typical symptoms include abnormal weight gain, lower energy levels, slow heart rates, intolerance to cold, hair loss and heavy periods. Causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: This is an autoimmune disease where the body destroys the thyroid tissue leading to loss of production of thyroid hormones.
  • Absence of thyroid gland: The gland may have been surgically removed or chemically destroyed.
  • Excess iodide: Exposure to excessive iodine in cold or heart medications, or from contrast dyes given prior to x-rays may lead to excessive exposure and put you at risk of developing hypothyroidism.
  • Lithium: Drugs containing this also cause hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism can be managed by taking daily oral supplementation of T4 hormone.

Goiter – This refers to an enlarged thyroid gland and the commonest cause is iodine deficiency. In most cases, the patient isn’t even aware of having an enlarged gland, until it becomes enormous and starts to compress on the wind pipe or food pipe, making breathing and swallowing difficult. It could also lead to a hoarse voice.

It’s usually a defense mechanism to keep up with the body’s hormonal needs and can be associated with either hypothyroidism or hypothyroidism. It’s rarely removed, just monitored routinely for possible cancerous growth.