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Thyroid conditions affect the proper functioning of the thyroid, a small gland located in the neck that influences most of the body’s metabolic function through the production of two hormones – T3 (triiodothyronine and T4 (thyroxine). The production of T3 and T4, which are collectively referred to as thyroid hormone, is regulated by thyroid stimulating hormone or TSH, a hormone produced by another small gland in the brain known as the pituitary. Thyroid hormone is known to affect energy production, growth, development, and the functioning of the circulatory, nervous, and reproductive systems. Because of these widespread effects, improper levels of thyroid hormone caused by thyroid conditions can have major effects on the body including appetite changes, weight gain or loss, fatigue, hair loss, and heart palpitations.
There are four major types of thyroid diseases and conditions. These are:
The causes for thyroid conditions vary from condition to condition. Below are suspected causes for each type of thyroid condition.
Thyroid nodules are caused by an overgrowth of thyroid tissue. All of the causes of thyroid overgrowth are unknown, but so far, scientists have identified the following:
There are several factors known to influence the risk of developing a thyroid disease or condition. These include:
In addition to the overarching risk factors for thyroid conditions, there are specific risk factors for varying thyroid conditions and diseases. These include:
If your doctor suspects you may have a thyroid disease or condition, he or she will most likely:
If your doctor suspects you may have hypothyroidism, he or she may conduct the following diagnostic tests:
If your doctor suspects you may have hyperthyroidism, he or she may conduct the following diagnostic tests:
Thyroid nodules typically do not have symptoms and therefore aren’t noticed or diagnosed until they are causing other problems with the thyroid. However, if nodules are discovered during a physical exam, you may undergo the following testing to ensure that the nodules are benign:
Hypothyroidism: The symptoms of hypothyroidism can be subtle and are frequently thought to be the result of normal aging. Symptoms become more obvious as the condition worsens. Below are the most common symptoms:
Hyperthyroidism: Not everyone has the same symptoms. Here’s what you may experience with hyperthyroidism:
Hypothyroidism: In most cases, thyroid hormone levels return to normal with proper treatment. You will likely have to take a thyroid hormone replacement medicine for the rest of your life.
Thyroid nodules typically do not have symptoms and therefore do not interfere with day-to-day life. However, it is always good to maintain a balanced lifestyle, to ensure that your condition does not worsen. A few things you can do to keep a balanced lifestyle include:
The US Preventative Services Task Force was unable to determine whether or not the benefits of screening for thyroid conditions outweighed the potential harm of unnecessary preemptive treatment. Screening for thyroid conditions is therefore not officially recommended. Since signs of thyroid conditions can be detected through basic blood tests and physical exams, many physicians choose to test patients that they feel may be at risk for developing thyroid conditions. If a doctor suspects an individual may have a thyroid condition, he or she may conduct several tests to arrive at a diagnosis.
There are no proven ways to prevent thyroid conditions.
Some people report the following alternative treatments are helpful, but there is no scientific evidence to confirm these claims.
According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, these complementary therapies may help minimize symptoms of mild hyperthyroid.
Always let your doctor know of any complimentary or alternative treatments you plan to try before starting them, as they may interfere with your medications.
If you think you may have a thyroid condition or disease or are experiencing any of the symptoms of one, schedule an appointment with your doctor. He or she will be able to make a diagnosis or refer you to a specialist if necessary.
If you’ve been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and are taking hormone replacement, see your doctor if you have any of the following symptoms, which could be signs of an overdose:
Call your doctor immediately if you have been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and:
If you’ve been diagnosed with thyroid nodules, contact your doctor immediately if:
If your doctor tells you your thyroid is underactive, or overactive, you’ll want to find out more about your condition. Here are some questions to ask:
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