A friend of mine called me today asking why her doctor ordered a thryoid ultrasound for her after a recent visit for her symptoms of fatigue, weight gain and hot flashes.
I explained to her that many people have thyroid disease and most of them are women. The symptoms of low thyroid function can be similar to menopausal symptoms and is often part of the work up.
The thyroid gland is small, has a butterfuly shape, and sits in the middle of the neck.
If you’re thyroid gland is underactive (hypothyroidism) you may gain weight, feel tired, notice hair loss , constipation, aching muscles/weakness, heavy menstral cycles, depression, dry skin/hair, facial swelling and have difficulty with cold temperatures.
If the thyroid gland is over active (hyperthyroidism) then you may experience weight loss, a fast heart rate and increased sensitivity to heat.
Hypothyroidism occurs when there is not enough thyroid hormone produced.
Here are some potential causes:
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: This is an autoimmune disorder which means the body attacks the thyroid gland tissue. The tissue then eventually stops producing hormones.
Exposure to increased amounts of iodide: Contrast which is given for certain x-ray examinations i.e. CT scans, amiodarone which is a heart medication and cold and sinus medications.
Lithium is a medication which may also cause hypothyroidism.
Xray treatment for acne at a young age.
Hyperthyroidism occurs as a result of increased production of thyroid hormone.
It can present in different ways:
Graves’ disease results in overproduction of thyroid hormone.
Toxic adenomas are nodules which grow in the thyroid gland and produce increased amounts of thyroid hormone.
Subacute thyroiditis is an inflamed thyroid gland. This results in excess hormones being released, which causes a temporary state of hyperthyroidism, which may last for a few weeks or months.
Thyroid cancer and pituitary abnormalities are less common causes of abnormal function.
Free T3, T4 and TSH levels are measured. Thyroid antibodies are checked to help determine the presence of an autoimmune thyroid disorder.
T3 is the more active form of the thyroid hormone. Many physicians now focus on a combination of T3 and T4 hormone replacement so that all levels are properly balanced. Your doctor will let you know the best combination for you.
Thyroid ultrasound is performed to look for cysts, nodules, cancer and signs of autoimmune disease.
The thyroid gland although small is a very powerful organ and affects almost all metabolic processes in our bodies. Although abnormal thyroid function can result in unpleasant symptoms, most of them can be managed if correctly diagnosed and treated.