A thyroid is a small gland at the base of the neck that has much more power over a person’s health than its size might suggest.
According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, the hormones produced by the thyroid can control how many calories the body burns, how fast the heart beats and even whether or not a woman is able to conceive. Diseases of the thyroid mean the gland is either producing too much of the hormone or too little. A person may experience restlessness, fatigue, weight gain, or weight loss depending on the level of hormone produced.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormones. This disease is also known as an underactive thyroid. Hypothyroidism slows down a body’s function such as metabolism, causing a woman to gain weight. The most common cause of this type of thyroid disease is Hashimoto’s disease. Hypothyroidism can be brought on when the thyroid is removed or as a result of radiation treatment for certain cancers. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include feeling cold when others do not, constipation, muscle weakness, weight gain, feeling depressed, fatigue, thinning hair, slow heart rate and a hoarse voice.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid makes more thyroid hormones than the body needs. This speeds up the body’s function such as metabolism and heart rate. At first a woman may not notice the signs of hyperthyroidism, but over time the increased metabolism can bring on symptoms such as weight loss, anxiety, irritability, trouble sleeping, trembling hands, increased sweating, muscle weakness, diarrhea, lighter menstrual periods and changes in the condition of the eyes.
Both types of thyroid disease are hereditary. If a person in the family has hypothyroidism, other family members have an increased chance of developing it. Babies can have hypothyroidism from birth if family members have the disease. Women are more likely than men to have thyroid diseases, especially right after pregnancy and after menopause. In all cases, thyroid disease can be diagnosed through a simple blood test.
Treatment exists for both types of thyroid disease and, when regulated properly, can help a woman eliminate or alleviate symptoms. The goal of thyroid treatment is to restoring normal blood levels of thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism is treated with a drug called levothyroxine which replaces the missing thyroid hormone in the body. Hyperthyroidism may involve drug therapy that blocks hormone production, a radioactive iodine treatment that disables the thyroid, or surgery to remove part or the entire thyroid gland.
People diagnosed with a thyroid disease will have it for the rest of their lives. However, proper management and continued monitoring of treatment can ensure that a person lives a healthy, normal life.
Rashmi Bolinjkar, MD, is an OB/Gyn physician with Premier Health Specialists who practices at Upper Valley Women’s Center in Troy.