February is not just all about Valentine’s Day, chocolates and hearts. It’s also focuses on awareness of a butterfly-shaped hormone gland known as the thyroid. The thyroid has the difficult task of controlling your metabolism, growth, development, and body temperature. The thyroid gland is located on the throat and wraps around the windpipe. The presence of too much or too little thyroid hormone is determined by a blood test. So how will you know if you have an over or underactive thyroid and why would it happen?
There are many ways thyroid function to be affected, including the body attacking itself or cancers. Graves disease is an autoimmune disease that causes an increase in thyroid hormone. Overactive thyroid causes symptoms like more frequent bowel movements, feeling anxious, increased body temperature and sweating, loss of hair, increased heartbeat, and weight loss even with having increased appetite. It can also affect the menstrual cycle by causing lighter, shorter periods. It also possible to develop a goiter which is an enlarged thyroid gland. This condition is usually treated with medication to block the stimulation of the thyroid, removal of the thyroid, or radioactive iodine to help shutdown overactive thyroid cells. Many of these procedures end up causing patients to have an underactive thyroid that has to be treated with medication.
Underactive thyroid can also be caused by autoimmune disorders and the symptoms are pretty much the opposite to hyperthyroidism including feeling cold, lethargic, weight gain and constipation. Hypothryoidism, as it’s also called, can be treated with oral medications that are a replacement of thyroid hormone. Common names are Synthroid and levothyroxine.
Based on your lab results doctors will adjust your dosage to try and get you to the appropriate thyroid level. It may take months, even years, for this to happen. If you are still experiencing low thyroid symptoms the doctor will raise the dose, and vice-versa if you are experiencing symptoms of hyperthyroidism. The treatments have not changed much over the years although there are many developments in treating thyroid cancer.
It is important to know that thyroid hormone deficiencies often run in families so make sure you tell your primary care physician if anyone in your family has thyroid issues. If you do develop any of these symptoms you may want to be referred to an endocrinologist. Endocrinologists specialize in hormone disorders such as with the thyroid and diabetes. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms I would not recommend going the herbal or homeopathic route. Going untreated these disorders could have a long term effect on your mental abilities as well as effect other organ systems. I would also strongly discourage using hypothyroid medications as a weight loss tool as it has been in the past. The side effects and especially the effects on the heart are not worth the benefits that weight loss may have. If you think you are experiencing any of the symptoms of either type of thyroid disorder don’t hesitate to ask your doctor. Treatment may help you feel more like yourself again.