The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck, located just below the larynx. It produces hormones that control the body’s metabolism. These problems affect an estimated 59 million Americans, causing a variety of health issues, especially concerning weight, energy levels, and sensitivity to temperature.
The most common thyroid disorders occur when the gland produces either too much or too little thyroid hormone. This imbalance can affect your whole body.
Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid produces an overabundance of hormones, causing your metabolism to speed up. This results in anxiety and irritability and can lead to fatigue, muscle weakness, weight loss, trembling hands, vision problems, and sensitivity to heat. One of the most common causes is Grave’s disease, a condition in which the body’s immune system attacks the thyroid gland, which then produces excess hormones. The disorder is often hereditary. Thyroid nodules – small, noncancerous lumps that form on the thyroid gland – can cause swelling and pain and lead to hyperthyroidism, as well.
Hypothyroidism involves the opposite extreme: too little thyroid hormone is produced, which causes your metabolism to slow down. An underactive thyroid leads to fatigue and weakness, weight gain, dry skin, depression, constipation, memory problems, and sensitivity to cold. Left untreated, it can raise your cholesterol levels and put you at risk for a heart attack or stroke. The most common cause is Hashimoto’s disease, a condition similar to Grave’s in which the immune system again attacks the gland, but in this case decreased levels of thyroid hormone are produced. Surgery to remove the thyroid gland and radiation therapy to treat cancer can both cause hypothyroidism, as well.
Treatment will depend upon which condition you are suffering from. Hyperthyroidism is treated with radioactive iodide, anti-thyroid medication, or surgery, while hypothyroidism requires synthetic thyroid replacement hormones that are usually taken for the rest of your life.