According to the American Thyroid Association, as many as 20 million Americans may have some form of thyroid disease, and up to 60 percent may not even be aware of their condition. These are pretty alarming statistics, so we would like to describe two of the main thyroid conditions that endocrinologists treat, namely hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, and tell you what symptoms to watch out for.
The thyroid gland is shaped like a butterfly, or a bow tie. Located on the lower neck just above the collarbone, the thyroid gland produces hormones that affect many of the body’s physiological processes, including how the body converts food into energy (metabolism). Thyroid hormones can also affect heart rate, cholesterol levels, muscles, and bones.
When the thyroid is producing too much or too little thyroid hormone, it’s important to pay attention to subtle symptoms, because they are the body’s only way of telling us that something isn’t quite right.
What is hypothyroidism, and what symptoms should I watch out for?
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland doesn’t produce sufficient thyroid hormone to meet the body’s needs. Also known as underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism causes the body’s processes to slow down. Hypothyroidism affects everyone differently, and symptoms may not appear right away. Even when symptoms do appear, they may be easily attributed to aging, stress, fatigue, or other conditions and factors. Your doctor may want to do a blood test to check for hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, if you experience any of the following symptoms:
- Fairly sudden weight gain
- Depression, mood swings
- Persistent fatigue and drowsiness, even after a good night’s sleep
- Forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, learning, or remembering
- Dry, itchy skin
- Dry skin and hair, hair loss
- Muscle or joint pain
- Women may experience heavy or irregular menstruation, and have difficulty becoming pregnant
What is hyperthyroidism, and what symptoms should I watch out for?
Hyperthyroidism, also known as overactive thyroid, is diagnosed when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. Women are 5 to 10 times more likely than men to develop hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism is also easily overlooked at first, as symptoms may initially be mild, and may be attributed to stress, the aging process, or even depression. Goiter (an enlarged thyroid that may make the neck swell, and may interfere with breathing or swallowing) is an obvious symptom that shouldn’t be ignored. Other, less obvious symptoms include:
- Weight loss, even when increasing calorie intake
- Increased resting heart rate (greater than 100 beats per minute)
- Feeling very anxious, irritable, or jittery
- Inability to tolerate heat, excessive sweating
- Hair loss
- Nails may become weak or brittle, develop white ridges
- Women may experience irregular menstruation or miscarriage
How are thyroid disorders diagnosed and treated?
Thyroid diseases are more common in women than men, and may be diagnosed during a routine physical, or following routine blood tests. The most common initial thyroid test measures the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in the blood. If a thyroid disorder is suspected, your doctor may order follow up tests including ultrasound, thyroid scan, or needle biopsy.
While general physicians may diagnose thyroid diseases, due to the complexity of each case and the level of ongoing care required, treatment is generally managed by an endocrinologist, a physician who specializes in managing thyroid diseases and other conditions associated with the endocrine system. The good news is that most thyroid diseases can be managed medically, and most thyroid cancers respond well to treatment.
Do you have diabetes, thyroid problems, or another metabolic or hormone disorder?
If you’re looking for a highly qualified endocrinologist and a medical practice that can take care of all your health care needs, call Intercoastal Medical Group today for an appointment with one of our board-certified endocrinologists.
To schedule an appointment at our Beneva Professional Center office in Sarasota , or our Lakewood Ranch office in Bradenton, please call (941) 379-1777 or use our convenient Online Appointment Request Form.