Thyroid 101: Signs and Symptoms
1/3/2019 11:26:08 AM
Thyroid

The thyroid is small but mighty in its role in the body. This compact, butterfly-shaped gland wraps around the front of the trachea and measures only about five centimeters by two centimeters, but it has a huge job to do. The thyroid produces the hormones that regulate the body’s metabolism and influences every organ, tissue, and cell in the body. 

As essential as this "gland central” is to the body, symptoms of its dysfunction aren’t always obvious. While an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, up to 60 percent of those are unaware of their condition. That’s why it’s important to know how thyroid disease can affect your body and what signs to be on the lookout for. 

According to Michael Gonzales MD, board certified endocrinologist with Imperial Health’s Endocrinology Center of SWLA, the impact of a thyroid disorder should not be dismissed lightly, especially when the early stages are often symptomless. "When treated properly, people with thyroid disorders can live normal, active lives,” he explains. "However, because the symptoms can often mimic other ailments, it’s important that people pay attention to their bodies and know when to reach out to their physician.” 

Hypothyroidism, an underactive thyroid, can typically be treated by replacing missing hormones through supplementation. Hashimoto’s disease is the leading cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Hashimoto’s is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, thus hindering its function overtime and causing it to enlarge and underperform. One of the medications utilized for replacement is Synthroid which is recommend by the American Thyroid Association. If left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause, among other things, fatigue, mood swings, hoarse voice, forgetfulness, and weight gain. 

Hyperthyroidism, an overactive thyroid, is more common among women and has a peak incidence from young adulthood to mid-life. Dr. Gonzales says possible symptoms include palpitations, irritability, nervousness, sleep disturbances, muscle weakness, weight loss, and vision problems. The most common presentation of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, which is also an autoimmune disorder. This is the same illness that affected the late former First Lady Barbara Bush. In addition to the common symptoms of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease can cause a tremor in the hands and fingers, heat sensitivity, an increase in perspiration, bulging eyes (aka Graves’ ophthalmopathy) and thick, red skin on the shins or tops of the feet (Graves’ dermopathy). The treatment course for hyperthyroidism is not as simple as its underactive counterpart. Once a diagnosis is made, the amount of thyroid hormone produced needs to be reduced. Medications called anti-thyroid drugs can be used to control symptoms by reducing the levels of excess hormones. Radioactive iodine treatment can be utilized and allows for the thyroid to stop producing excess hormones and reduced in size. Surgery for removal of part of or the entire gland, while not as common, is also a treatment option. 

Unfortunately, as most organs, the thyroid is susceptible to cancer, more so in women than men, explains Dr. Gonzales. The American Cancer Society reports about 54,000 new cases this year with about 40,000 of those occurring in women. A simple look at the statistics will make it seem as though thyroid cancer is on the rise, tripling in the past three decades. However, it’s actually the introduction of thyroid ultrasounds that has caused the numbers to spike. Doctors can now detect small nodules that might not have been found otherwise. Thyroid cancer has few symptoms in the beginning, but as it progresses you could experience a lump that can be felt through the skin on your neck, changes to your voice, difficulty swallowing, pain in the neck or throat, and swollen lymph nodes in your neck.

Once diagnosed, thyroid cancer can be treated with surgery. Dr. Gonzales adds that early detection of the disease and proper diagnosis can help reduce recurrence once removed.

"Untreated thyroid problems can lead to a host of other illnesses among the body’s major organs,” says Dr. Gonzales "Low levels can lead to an accelerated risk for heart disease while high levels can increase risk for irregular heart rhythms and osteoporosis.” 

Doctors can test for thyroid disorders by measuring hormone levels in the blood. This testing is reliable and, along with knowledge of your medical history, will allow your physician to determine the optimal treatment plan. While thyroid cancer may require a more intricate treatment plan and harbor the possibility of resurfacing, other thyroid disorders are relatively easy to maintain with the proper medication. 

For more information on thyroid conditions or to make an appointment with Dr. Gonzales, please call (337) 310-3670.

Here are some signs that you should have your thyroid checked by a physician:
  • Depression, nervousness or irritability
  • Inability to gain or lose weight 
  • Changes in bowel movements
  • Insomnia or fatigue
  • Weak muscles and joints
  • Sensitivity to cold or heat
  • Increased sweating
  • Irregular or abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Dry or brittle hair, skin and nails
  • Trembling hands
  • Hoarse voice or lump in the throat
Posted by: Taylor Trahan Henry | Submit comment | Tell a friend

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