Much like our vehicles have engines, our bodies have similar parts that help us function. The heart and brain are the big anatomy regulators, but the thyroid is also a crucial driver of bodily operation. And when your thyroid experiences issues, your whole body starts to feel out of sorts — and your quality of life suffers.
Knowing how your thyroid works and what signs indicate something is amiss will help you get the care you need and enhance your livelihood.
Q. What is a thyroid?
A. A thyroid is a gland at the base of the neck. This important part of your body produces hormones that regulate blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and weight.
Q. What are potential thyroid problems?
- Hyperthyroidism is the case of an overactive thyroid.
- Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid is underactive.
- Thyroid cancer refers to a malignancy in the cells of the thyroid.
- Thyroid nodules are growths on the thyroid.
While all of these conditions can be serious, each has its own symptoms and distinctions.
Q. What are the symptoms of thyroid problems? How are they treated?
A. As stated before, each thyroid problem has its own nuances. Here are common symptoms to look for with each condition:
- Hyperthyroidism. Weight loss, rapid heartbeat, anxiety, fatigue, trouble sleeping, tremors and sweating.
- Hypothyroidism. Thinning hair, weight gain, fatigue, muscle weakness, joint pain, depression and impaired memory.
- Thyroid cancer. A lump on your neck, difficulty swallowing, swollen lymph nodes and changes in your voice.
- Thyroid nodules. In many cases, nodules don’t produce symptoms. In other cases, nodules become large enough that you can see and/or feel them. Some nodules are cancerous, although most are benign.
Contact your health care team if you experience these symptoms or have other concerns about potential thyroid health.
Treatment options for these conditions include:
- Hyperthyroidism. Multiple treatments are available for hyperthyroidism. Treatments include radioactive iodine, anti-thyroid medications, beta blockers or surgery. It’s important to discuss options with your health care provider to determine what’s best for you.
- Hypothyroidism. The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is an oral medication called synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine. After taking this medication, people see improvements with fatigue and even weight management. Finding the right dosage is key, as all patients require different care plans.
- Thyroid cancer. Treatment for thyroid cancer is dependent on the type, size and stage of the tumor. Options include surgery — which may consist of partial or complete removal of the thyroid — radioactive iodine, external radiation therapy, chemotherapy or targeted drug therapy.
- Thyroid nodules. There are a few options for treating noncancerous nodules. Watch and wait, conduct surgery for large benign nodules or use thyroid suppression therapy.
The thyroid is so important to your well-being. It’s a gland that regulates vital functions of your body and influences not only your health, but the quality of your life. So if there’s an issue, the faster it’s addressed, the better you’ll feel.
Contact your health care team if you have concerns about your thyroid.