One of the most important organs in the human body is the thyroid. This gland is found in the throat, right below the voice box or larynx. The organ functions to regulate the body’s metabolism, protein production, energy usage, and hormone sensitivity. However, its main function is to secrete the T3 or triiodothyronine and T4 or thyroxine thyroid hormones. Like any other important organ in the human body, there are problems or in this case, thyroid problems. These come in the form of thyroid diseases such as hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. These thyroidisms have to deal with either the lack of or the excessive amount of thyroid hormones.
What is Hypothyroidism?
Hypothyroidism is defined by the thyroid’s inability to produce a sufficient amount of hormones. People of older age, 60 years and older, are more likely to be affected by this condition. Gender wise, women get hypothyroidism more often than men. The disease is also hereditary.
Causes of Hypothyroidism
There are several causes of hypothyroidism, the most common being Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. This condition makes the immune system attack the thyroid. This severely limits thyroid hormone production, which would eventually form hypothyroidism. Other, minor causes exist as well:
- Surgery to remove the thyroid gland
- Radiation therapy for cancer
- Viral infections
- Some drugs, such as lithium
What is Hyperthyroidism?
In hyperthyroidism, the condition is defined by the over activity of the thyroid gland producing too many hormones. It is estimated that 37,000 new cases of Graves’ disease (which is the primary cause of hyperthyroidism) are diagnosed each year in the US. 80 percent of these are females (source).
Causes of Hyperthyroidism
A common cause of hyperthyroidism is the Graves’ disease. It is an autoimmune disorder that produces an excess of hormones. In minor cases, hyperthyroidism can be caused by thyroid nodules or swelling in the thyroid itself.
There is a wide array of symptoms associated with both thyroidisms. In hypothyroidism, the body’s processes are often slowed down or weakened. The symptoms include:
- subjectivity to cold
- increased pain in joints and muscles
- weight gain
- slowed heart rate
- skin dryness
- decreased sweating
- increased subjectivity to cold
These symptoms are often developed a slow pace, so the victim will feel these effects much later.
In hyperthyroidism, the excess amount of hormones speeds up the body’s processes:
- Metabolism is increased, causing the body to lose weight quickly
- The heart starts rapidly beating
- The sweat glands start producing extreme amounts of sweat
- Bone and heart problems
- Thyroid storm
Treatment for the Thyroid
Fortunately, there exists effective means of treating both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. They are both, however different.
For the former, if the initial symptoms of are mild, any real treatment process may not be applied immediately. However, it is important to keep close attention to how the thyroid develops overtime with the condition. Thyroid hormone pills are usually prescribed by a doctor for the more severe versions of hypothyroidism. As powerful as they are, it is likely that the patient will have to take these pills for the rest of his/her natural lifespan. Additionally, it is incredibly important to take the correct amount of medication as instructed by a doctor. This is simply due to the fact that having too much or too little thyroid hormones can prove to be harmful. A severe case of hypothyroidism may cause a life threatening disease called myxedema coma. This is a condition in which a loss of brain function occurs from serious and prolonged exposure to low levels of thyroid hormone in the blood. This is extremely life threatening.
For hyperthyroidism, treatment is much simpler. A doctor will often prescribe radioactive iodine and anti-thyroid medicine. The radioactive iodine destroys parts of the thyroid to get rid of excess hormones and this treatment is usually done after just one dose.
Testing for Thyroid Diseases
In order to determine whether or not an individual does indeed have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, a thyroid function test is commonly used. This test uses thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH to measure the hormones. If there is a lack of hormones, the individual most likely has hypothyroidism. If there is an excess of hormones, the individual most likely has hyperthyroidism.