POOR THYROID FUNCTION
SIGNS, SYMPTOMS and SOLUTIONS*
The Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system. This system is a collection of glands that secrete chemicals, called hormones, directly into the blood stream. Together with the nervous system and the immune system, the endocrine system helps the body to cope with different events and stresses.
The thyroid gland is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body. It is situated in the front of the throat, below the larynx (Adam’s apple) and is made up of two lobes that lie on either side of the trachea (windpipe). The thyroid gland secretes hormones to regulate many metabolic processes, including growth and energy expenditure. If the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) or under-active (hypothyroidism), the metabolism will be affected, leading to a variety of symptoms that are easily misdiagnosed.
The primary function of the thyroid gland is to produce the hormones thyroxine (T4), triidothyroxine (T3) and calcitonin. T3 is about ten times more active than T4. The 3 and 4 refer to the number of atoms of iodine in the hormones. Iodine is essential for the production of thyroid hormones and humans need about 150mcg (millionths of a gram) each day. Iodine is found in most foods, especially seafood. The soils in Tasmania and along the Great Dividing Range are low in iodine, so the foods from these areas can contain insufficient iodine. Iodised salt is the best way to supplement dietary iodine.
The pituitary gland is considered the ‘master gland’ of the endocrine system. It controls the thyroid gland. It produces the hormone thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) which prompts the thyroid to release more T4 and T3. There is a feedback mechanism: as thyroxine levels in the blood increase, there is a reduction in TSH and the opposite, with reduced levels of thyroxine there is an increase in the release of TSH. In his way, T4 and T3 levels in the blood are kept relatively constant. The pituitary gland, in turn, is overseen by a part of the brain called the hypothalamus.
Hyperthyroidism - Overactive Thyroid
An overactive thyroid releases too much T4 and T3 into the bloodstream. This leads to an increased metabolism. The most common cause is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder. Complications of untreated hyperthyroidism include liver damage and heart failure. Symptoms of an overactive thyroid include:
· Rapid heart rate and pulse
· A fine tremor of the hands
· Sweating and sensitivity to hot weather
· Hot flushes
· Weight loss
· Anxiety and nervousness
· Exopthalmos (bulging of the eyes)
· Goitre (swelling of the thyroid gland)
· Soft, thinning hair
· Depression and mood swings.
Hypothyroidism – Under-active Thyroid
An under-active thyroid releases too little T4 and T3 into the bloodstream. The most common cause is Hashimoto’s disease, also an autoimmune disorder. It results in a slowed metabolism. Symptoms of an under-active thyroid include:
· Fatigue and lethargy
· Feeling cold (even in warm weather)
· Slow pulse
· Weight gain
· Depression and mood swings
· Poor concentration (brain fog)
· Puffiness of the face
· Hair loss and dry skin
· Chronic constipation
· Low basal temperature
· Slow reflexes
· Deepening and hoarse voice
· High cholesterol
When these symptoms are prominent, the condition is called myxoedema.
The symptoms listed are typical of overactive and under-active thyroid states. Not everyone with overactive or under-active thyroid has all the symptoms listed: some may relate to only a few of them, some may relate to many of them, as well as other symptoms not listed. Everyone is different.
Other Disorders of the Thyroid Gland
Nodules or lumps in the thyroid gland tissue. Some have overactive thyroid cells and are called ‘hot’ nodules and cause hyperthyroidism. Others are ‘cold’ and are generally harmless, though a small percent will be cancer.
Cancer. Thyroid cancer is uncommon and is readily treated, especially if detected early.
Diagnosis and Treatment
Diagnosis of problems with thyroid hormone levels is achieved by simple blood tests measuring TSH, T4 and T3 levels. The presence of antibodies in the blood will confirm if Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s disease is present.
Hyperthyroidism (overactivity) is treated by taking drugs which slow the activity of the thyroid gland. If these do not give adequate control, part, or even all, of the gland can be removed surgically, or some of the thyroid cells can be destroyed with radioactive iodine (I131).
Hypothyroidism (underactivity) is treated by taking thyroxine tablets. This is a form of hormone replacement.
Nodules and cancers are diagnosed with a variety of different tests, including ultrasound, special x-rays and fine needle biopsies.
‘Hot’ nodules will generally be removed surgically or destroyed with radioactive iodine.
‘Cold’ nodules are frequently left alone and observed.
Cancer is treated by surgically removing the thyroid gland, followed by the use of radioactive iodine to destroy any cells that may have spread.
Hypothyroidism is far more common than once thought. Mild levels of hyperthyroidism are often not diagnosed.
How often have you been told:
· “It’s psychosomatic, it’s all in your head.”
· “You have CFS, chronic fatigue syndrome, there is nothing you can do about it, learn to live with it.”
· “Stress and anxiety are the cause of your symptoms.”
· “Just snap out of it and get on with life.”
Hearing these type of statements, often from well-meaning friends, relatives and even doctors, can be very discouraging.
It may be your thyroid. If so, the diagnosis is straight forward and treatment is effective.
*Copyright 2011: The Huntly Centre.
Disclaimer: All material in the huntlycentre.com.au website is provided for informational or educational purposes only. Consult a health professional regarding the applicability of any opinions or recommendations expressed herein, with respect to your symptoms or medical condition.
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