The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located on the front of the neck, produces thyroid hormones which regulate the body's metabolism. When left untreated, a problematic thyroid can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, mood changes, sexual dysfunction and infertility.
There are two common conditions associated with thyroid diseases:
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid disease) speeds up the metabolism when the thyroid glands produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones.
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid disease) slows down the metabolism when the thyroid hormones fall below normal in the bloodstream.
In both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, the thyroid can become larger than normal, creating a lump under the skin called a goiter, explains Teresa A. Hubka, DO, an osteopathic obstetrician and gynecologist from Chicago.
Smoking, being pregnant, over-consuming soy food or being exposed to radiation put people at risk for developing thyroid disease. Each thyroid condition exhibits common symptoms:
Nervousness or irritability.
Increased perspiration and intolerance to heat.
A fast heartbeat.
Weight loss, even when eating more than usual.
Sluggishness and muscle weakness.
Weight gain, even when not eating more or exercising less than usual.
Dry or scaly skin.
"Pay attention to your body. If
you notice significant changes in weight or lingering change
in emotional status, seek medical treatment,"
says Dr. Hubka.
Doctors of Osteopathic Medicine,
or DOs, look beyond your symptoms to understand how lifestyle and
environmental factors affect your wellbeing. They listen and partner
with you to help prevent illness and encourage your body’s natural
tendency toward self-healing.
Treatment for thyroid disease varies depending on the severity of symptoms.
Hypothyroidism is usually treated with thyroid hormone replacement pills, which can restore normal levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. This treatment is relatively simple, but it requires doctor visits once or twice a year for an examination, blood tests and medication adjustments.
Hyperthyroidism is treated with anti-thyroid medications, which block the thyroid’s production of thyroid hormones. There are also more permanent treatments such as:
Radioactive iodine, which can be taken in capsules or mixed with a glass of water.
Thyroidectomy, a surgical procedure to remove most of the thyroid gland.
These permanent treatments typically produce an underactive thyroid that will need to be treated with thyroid hormone replacement tablets.