Thyroid disorders affect millions of individuals in the United States and around the world. Here we examine some of the most common conditions and what you can expect in terms of diagnosis and treatment options at Lahey.
Hypothyroidism, or insufficient production of thyroid hormone, is commonly caused by an inflammation of the thyroid known as Hashimoto’s disease, in which a patient’s immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid. The disease is genetic, so most people who have it were born predisposed to the condition. Hypothyroidism can also be caused by medications, treatment for hyperthyroidism, pregnancy, a virus or problems with the pituitary gland.
- Feeling cold when others are not
- Dry skin/hair
- Muscle cramps
- Increased menstrual flow
- Unexplained weight gain
- Swelling in front of the neck (due to a goiter)
Hyperthyroidism is characterized by an overproduction of thyroid hormone. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder that causes generalized overactivity of the thyroid gland. Although it occurs in both men and woman and can strike at any age, the typical patient is female and between the ages of 20 and 40. Other causes of hyperthyroidism include toxic nodular or multinodular goiter (one or more overactive nodules or lumps in the thyroid), or thyroiditis, a temporary condition that causes the gland to leak thyroid hormone.
- Nervousness and anxiety
- Increased perspiration and feeling hot when others are not
- Difficulty sleeping
- Increased bowel movements
- Thin hair/warm, smooth skin
- Muscular weakness (especially in the upper arms and thighs)
- Unexplained weight loss
- Bulging eyes (in Graves’ disease)
A thyroid nodule refers to a growth of thyroid cells that forms a lump within the thyroid. Less than 10 percent of nodules are cancerous.
Thyroid nodules typically have few, if any, symptoms. Rarely, a patient may experience difficulty swallowing or breathing, pain, hoarseness or hyperthyroid symptoms. Nodules are often discovered during a neck examination for another reason. In order to make an accurate diagnosis, your Lahey physician may perform a thyroid ultrasound, a thyroid scan or a thyroid fine-needle biopsy.
Diagnosis and Treatment of Thyroid Disease
Patients suspected of suffering from thyroid disease will receive a full physical examination and have their blood screened for thyroid hormone levels and to measure antibodies in the blood that attack the thyroid. To expedite the diagnosis of a thyroid nodule, we offer in-office or ultrasound guided fine-needle aspiration with rapid results.
Once diagnosed, thyroid disease is highly treatable. Patients with hypothyroidism can take thyroid hormone pills to replace the function of a failing or failed thyroid gland, while those with hyperthyroidism can take antithyroid drugs that block the thyroid’s ability to make new thyroid hormone. Radioactive iodine treatment, which is administered in pill form as an outpatient, is another common and safe therapy for an overactive thyroid. Although infrequently used, surgery can be employed for the treatment of hypothyroidism.
For patients diagnosed with thyroid cancer or abnormal nodules on the thyroid, thyroid surgery, or removal of the thyroid, is an effective treatment. Lahey’s highly experienced thyroid surgeons are ready to perform any necessary procedures. The majority of our patients live completely normal lives after surgery with the help of thyroid hormone supplements.
For more information on thyroid cancer, visit the Thyroid Cancer Survivors Association Web site.