The thyroid is a small gland in the neck situated in front of the trachea and beneath the larynx. It produces hormones that regulate your body’s metabolism.
When too much or too little hormone is produced, many of the body’s everyday functions are affected.
Certain disorders spur the thyroid to create too much thyroid hormone. This causes the metabolism to speed up, leading to symptoms that include weight loss, anxiety, irritability, increased perspiration, muscle weakness, sensitivity to heat, trouble sleeping, rapid heartbeat, trembling hands or fingers and frequent bowel movements.
Hyperthyroidism is frequently attributable to Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland. Thyroid nodules, small solid or fluid-filled lumps on the thyroid gland, can also stimulate excess thyroid hormone production.
Hyperthyroidism may be treated with anti-thyroid medication, beta-blockers, radioactive iodine or surgery, depending on the cause and severity.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too little hormone. This slows down the metabolism and causes weight gain, fatigue, depression, sensitivity to cold, joint pain, muscle weakness, dry skin, hoarseness and constipation. In addition, hypothyroidism can lead to increased levels of LDL cholesterol, putting patients at risk of heart disease.
The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder in which the immune system creates antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, damaging it so it is unable to produce enough hormones. Other causes include radiation treatment, thyroid removal and pituitary gland problems.
Hypothyroidism is treated with synthetic thyroid hormone pills that must be taken for life in most cases.
Additional Thyroid Conditions
Other conditions that can cause thyroid problems include thyroid nodules (mentioned above), thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland), goiter (an abnormally large thyroid gland), and thyroid cancer.