- Hypothyroidism: this means the thyroid is underactive, and it’s caused by not having sufficient free thyroid hormones. Some common symptoms of this include dry skin, intolerance to cold, fatigue, low energy, slow heart rate, weight gain, and constipation.
- Hyperthyroidism: this means the thyroid is hyperactive, and it’s caused as a result of too much free thyroid hormones. Some common symptoms of this include weight loss, irritability, diarrhoea, anxiety, fast heartbeat, intolerance to heat, and enlargement of the thyroid.
- Structural abnormalities are mostly known as goitre: this is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. This may not actually produce symptoms. However, some people may have symptoms related to hyperthyroid or hypothyroid or notice swelling of the neck. On rare occasions, goitres can cause compression of the airway, difficulty in swallowing, or compression of the vessels in the neck.
- Tumours or thyroid nodules as it’s often called, which can either be benign (that is, not cancerous) or cancerous. This may also have several different symptoms ranging from those of hyperthyroidism to that of hypothyroidism, to compression of the structures in the neck and swelling in the neck.
- An abnormal thyroid function tests devoid of any clinical symptoms.
Diagnosis of thyroid disease
To diagnose thyroid disease, two factors are considered – symptoms exhibited and the presence of thyroid nodules. So you could either do a blood test, an ultrasound or a radioiodine scan. A blood test measures certain hormones such as the thyroid hormones triiodothyronine (known as T3) and its precursor, thyroxine (known as T4), and the thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
The ultrasound is requested to know the nature of a thyroid nodule. That is, whether it’s being or cancerous.
A radioiodine scan is requested to know if there is even uptake and activity throughout the gland.
Treatment options for thyroid disease.
There are three main treatment option that can be used to treat a thyroid disease – medication, surgery and radioiodine therapy.
A discussion with your doctor will let you know what the best option is for you.
Some of the thyroid disease symptoms associated with hyperthyroidism include – Rapid and irregular heartbeat; weight loss; nervousness, anxiety and irritability; tremor (usually a fine trembling in your hands and fingers); fatigue and muscle weakness; difficulty in sleeping; profuse sweating; changes in menstrual patterns; and increased sensitivity to heat
This is the direct opposite of hyperthyroidism. In hypothyroidism, the thyroid gland becomes underactive and as a result, produces less sufficient hormones.
The thyroid disease symptoms exhibited by hypothyroidism may not be noticeable in the early stages and as result may lead to a number of health complications, such as obesity, infertility, joint pain, and heart disease.
Hypothyroidism manifests as
- Thyroiditis: This is characterised by an inflammation of the thyroid gland. It lowers the number of hormones produced by the thyroid gland.
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune thyroid disease. In this type of hypothyroidism, the body’s cells attack and damage the thyroid tissue, which eventually dies and stops producing the necessary hormones. The painless disease is an inherited condition.
- Postpartum thyroiditis: This is usually a temporary condition that occurs in about 5% to 9% of women after childbirth.
- A non-functioning thyroid gland: At times, the thyroid gland doesn’t function correctly from birth. This occurs in about 1 in 4,000 new-borns, and if left untreated, the child could suffer from both physical and mental issues in the future.
The thyroid disease symptoms of hypothyroidism depend on the severity of the hormone deficiency.
Some of the thyroid disease symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include – Fatigue, increased cold sensitivity, dry skin, constipation, an elevated blood cholesterol level, slow heart rate, depression, impaired memory, heavier than usual or irregular menstrual periods, muscle weakness, and muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness
- Thyroid nodules
Thyroid nodules are benign (that is, not cancerous) or cancerous growths that form in or on the thyroid gland. The causes are always unknown but maybe as a result of iodine deficiency and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Thyroid nodules can be solid or fluid-filled and don’t cause any symptoms. However, if they are large, they can cause swelling around the neck which is painful and can lead to breathing and swallowing difficulties, and goitre. Most of these nodules are benign, but they can be cancerous also.
Thyroid disease symptoms displayed may be similar to that of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
Goitre, or structural abnormality as it is also known, is a non-cancerous enlargement of the thyroid gland, commonly caused is an iodine deficiency in the diet. According to researches, goitre affects about 200 million of the 800 million people worldwide who are iodine-deficient.
In mild cases of goitre, there might not be any thyroid disease symptoms displayed. However, if it grows big enough, depending on the size, it may cause one or more of the following symptoms:
- Swelling and/or tightness in the neck
- Difficulty in breathing or swallowing
- Cough or wheezing
- Hoarseness of the voice
Types and Causes of Thyroid Disease
In hyperthyroidism, the thyroid gland becomes hyperactive and as a result produces too much of its hormone, thyroxine hormone. This manifests as
Graves' disease: This condition is characterised by the production of too much thyroid hormone as a result of over-activeness of the entire thyroid gland. This condition is also known as diffuse toxic goitre (that is, enlarged thyroid gland).
- Toxic adenomas: in this condition, nodules develop in the thyroid gland, becomes overactive and begin to secrete thyroid hormones. This secretion upsets the body's chemical balance. Some goitres may actually contain many of these nodules. A single nodule is referred to as toxic autonomously functioning thyroid nodule, while a gland with numerous nodules is referred to as toxic multi-nodular goitre.
- Sub-acute thyroiditis: this is an inflammation of the thyroid gland. This inflammation causes the thyroid to leak excess hormones, thereby, resulting in temporary hyperthyroidism that mostly lasts a few weeks, but may persist for months. This condition may be either painful or not even felt at all
Dysfunctional pituitary gland or cancer growth in the thyroid gland: while this is rare, hyperthyroidism can well develop from these causes.
Excessive iodine: excess iodine (the mineral used in production of thyroid hormones) in the body can make the thyroid gland produce more thyroid hormones than required.
- Does thyroid disease cause hair loss?
Yes, it can. Loss of hair is a thyroid disease symptom, particularly in hypothyroidism. If you’ve started to experience to loss of hair and are worried about it, talk to your doctor.
- Does thyroid disease cause seizures?
Usually, thyroid disease doesn’t cause seizures. However, in severe cases of hypothyroidism that yet to be diagnosed or treated, there’s an increased risk of developing low serum sodium. This may lead to seizures.
- Who is affected by thyroid disease?
Thyroid disease does not discriminate and so can affect anyone — men, women, infants, teenagers and elderly.
You may, however, be at a higher risk of developing thyroid disease if –
- There’s a family history of thyroid disease.
- You have certain medical conditions such as type 1 diabetes, pernicious anaemia, primary adrenal insufficiency, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and Turner syndrome.
- You are on a medication that’s high in iodine.
- You are above the age of 60, especially for women.
- You have been previously treated for a thyroid condition or cancer.
- What is thyroid disease relationship with diabetes?
Diabetic people are at a higher risk of developing thyroid disease than people without diabetes. Those with type 1 diabetes have a much higher risk because it is an autoimmune disorder, and having one autoimmune disorder predisposes one to develop another. For those with type 2 diabetes, the risk is lower.
- What are the risk factors for thyroid disease?
Any of the following could predispose you to thyroid disease
- A family history of thyroid disease, in particular of Graves' disease
- Female gender
- Autoimmune diseases like type 1 diabetes or celiac disease
- Previous treatment with radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications
- Previous exposure to radiation around your neck or upper chest
- What complications are associated with thyroid disease?
Some of the complications that may occur as a result of thyroid disease include
- Heart problems: low levels of thyroid hormone may be associated with an increased risk of heart disease and heart failure, mainly because of high levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (that is, bad cholesterol) that can occur in people with underactive thyroid.
- Mental health issues. There’s likelihood of depression occurring early in hypothyroidism. This may become more severe over time. There’s also the possibility of slowed mental functioning in hypothyroidism.
- Myxedema: a rare, life-threatening condition that may occur as a result of long-term, undiagnosed hypothyroidism. It’s characterised by an intense cold intolerance and drowsiness, followed by profound lethargy and unconsciousness.
- Infertility: Low levels of thyroid hormone in the body system can interfere with the ovulation period, this impairs fertility. Also, some of the causes of hypothyroidism, like autoimmune disorder, can also impair fertility.
- Birth defects: when left untreated thyroid disease may cause birth defects to babies born to women with thyroid disease. These children are also highly prone to severe intellectual and developmental problems.