Treatments for Thyroid Diseases

Symptoms

The thyroid is a small gland located below the Adam’s apple in your neck. It releases hormones, thyroxine (T4) andtriiodothyronine (T3), which increase the amount of oxygen your body uses and stimulate your cells to produce new proteins. By controlling the release of these hormones, the thyroid determines the metabolic rate of most of your body’s organs.

The thyroid gland is regulated by thyroid-stimulating hormone(TSH), which is made by the pituitary gland in the brain. Normally, when thyroid hormone levels in the body are high, they will “switch off” the production of TSH, which in turn stops the thyroid from making more T4 and T3.

Problems occur when the thyroid gland becomes either underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive (hyperthyroidism). Thyroid problems are more common in women than men. Cancer may also develop in the thyroid gland.

HYPOTHYROIDISM/HASHIMOTO’S DISEASE

Hypothyroidism is a condition where the thyroid is underactive, chemically destroyed, or surgically removed, and therefore unable to produce sufficient levels of thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism is treated by replacing the missing hormone, a hormone that is essential to the body’s key functions. This is accomplished by taking thyroid hormone replacement drugs prescribed by a physician.

Treatment of Hashimoto’s disease, the autoimmune condition that often results in hypothyroidism, is more controversial.

 Some research suggests that treating someone with Hashimoto’s but a normal TSH may help prevent elevation of the TSH level and progression to full hypothyroidism. This is discussed further in Treating Hashimoto’s When the TSH is Normal.

On the integrative medicine front, some holistic practitioners recommend iodine supplementation, other nutritional supplements, dietary changes, particular yoga poses, mind-body medicine, and other complementary approaches to help the thyroid.

Symptoms and Complications

Hypothyroidism results in low levels of T4 and T3 in the blood. Not having enough T4 and T3 in the blood causes your metabolism to slow down.

Common symptoms include:

  • coarse and dry hair
  • confusion or forgetfulness (often mistaken for dementia in seniors)
  • constipation
  • depression
  • dry, scaly skin
  • fatigue or a feeling of sluggishness
  • hair loss
  • increased menstrual flow (women)
  • intolerance to cold temperatures
  • irritability
  • muscle cramps
  • slower heart rate
  • weakness
  • weight gain

If hypothyroidism isn’t treated, the symptoms will progress. Rarely, a severe form of hypothyroidism, calledmyxedema, can develop. Symptoms of myxedema include:

  • low body temperature
  • dulled mental processes
  • congestive heart failure, a condition where the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs

Myxedema coma occurs in people with severe hypothyroidism who have been exposed to additional physical stresses such as infections, cold temperatures, trauma, or the use of sedatives. Symptoms include loss of consciousness, seizures, and slowed breathing.

Hyperthyroidism results in high levels of T4 and T3 circulating in the blood. These hormones speed up your metabolism. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • increased heart rate with abnormal rhythm or pounding (palpitations)
  • high blood pressure
  • increased body temperature (feeling unusually warm)
  • increased sweating
  • clamminess
  • feeling agitated or nervous
  • tremors in the hands
  • feeling of restlessness even though the person is tired or weak
  • increased appetite accompanied by weight loss
  • interrupted sleep
  • frequent bowel movements, sometimes with diarrhea
  • puffiness around the eyes, increased tears, sensitivity to light, or an intense stare
  • bone loss (osteoporosis)
  • stopped menstrual cycles

Graves’ disease, in addition to the common symptoms of hyperthyroidism, may cause a bulge in the neck (goiter) at the location of the enlarged thyroid gland. It also might cause the eyes to bulge out, which may result in double vision. Sometimes, the skin over the shins becomes raised.

If hyperthyroidism is left untreated or is not treated properly, a life-threatening complication called thyroid storm (extreme overactivity of the thyroid gland) can occur. Symptoms include:

  • confusion
  • coma
  • fever
  • high blood pressure
  • irregular heartbeat, which can be fatal
  • jaundice associated with liver enlargement
  • mood swings
  • muscle wasting
  • restlessness
  • shock
  • weakness

Thyroid storm, considered a medical emergency, can also be triggered by trauma, infection, surgery, uncontrolled diabetes, pregnancy or labour, or taking too much thyroid medication.

 

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