Thyroid Dysfunction

What Is Thyroid Dysfunction?

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck that produces thyroid hormone. Thyroid hormone is important for regulating many body functions, including but not limited to metabolism, heart rate, body temperature, and digestion. When your body produces too much or too little thyroid hormone, it is called thyroid dysfunction.

Alternate Names For Thyroid Dysfunction

You may have heard thyroid dysfunction referred to by other names, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Graves’ disease, or goiter. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) and Graves’ disease the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone). Goiter is a term that means an enlarged thyroid gland. Goiter can occur in either hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.

What Are The Causes Of Thyroid Dysfunction​?

Thyroid dysfunction is most commonly caused by an autoimmune process in the body. Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are both autoimmune diseases. This means that there is an immune attack against the thyroid going on in the body which, over time, causes too much or too little thyroid hormone to be produced depending on the circumstances. Thyroid dysfunction can also be caused by abnormal thyroid growths or thyroid surgery.

What Are The Signs And Symptoms Of Thyroid Dysfunction​?

Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroid symptoms can sometimes be vague or nonspecific. By far, the most common symptom is fatigue. Other possible symptoms are weight gain, increased sensitivity to cold, constipation, and dry skin, among many others.

Hyperthyroidism – Symptoms of hyperthyroidism are similar to symptoms of having a bit too much caffeine. Classic hyperthyroid symptoms include palpitations, anxiety, shakiness, insomnia, increased appetite, and weight loss.

What Are The Risk Factors Of Thyroid Dysfunction?

Thyroid dysfunction is generally more common in females. Other risk factors for thyroid dysfunction include having different autoimmune diseases and having a family history of thyroid disease or a family history of other autoimmune diseases.

How Is Thyroid Dysfunction Diagnosed?

Thyroid dysfunction is diagnosed through a blood test. Specifically, the blood tests TSH and free T4 are often the most useful. Other thyroid blood tests include T3 levels and antibody levels. TSH (Thyroid Stimulating Hormone) is the hormone that is produced by the pituitary gland in the brain and regulates the amount of thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) produced by the thyroid. Antibodies against the thyroid gland (detected in autoimmune thyroid disease) may also be detected in a blood test.

What Are The Possible Treatments For Thyroid Dysfunction?

Hypothyroidism is treated by taking thyroid hormone replacement, typically in the form of a pill. Hyperthyroidism may be treated in several ways. It can be treated with medications that block the production of thyroid hormone, with a treatment called radioiodine therapy, or, in some cases, with surgery.

Are There Preventative Steps Or Measures To Avoid Thyroid Dysfunction?

No, there is no known way to prevent thyroid dysfunction from developing.

What Are The Risks If Thyroid Dysfunction Is Left Untreated?

Untreated hypothyroidism can lead to goiter, heart problems, mental health issues, infertility, birth defects, damage to peripheral nerves, and focus issues, and in rare cases a life-threatening condition called myxedema.

Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to heart problems, brittle bones, and a medical emergency called thyrotoxic crisis or storm which may be life-threatening.

Are There Other Related Conditions To Thyroid Dysfunction?

Thyroid nodules are a condition that may be related to thyroid dysfunction. Thyroid nodules are very common, often benign growths in the thyroid gland. Some thyroid nodules produce thyroid hormone but many do not. Approximately 5% of thyroid nodules are cancerous. People with thyroid dysfunction may be at increased risk of having thyroid nodules.

Key Takeaways 

  • The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of the neck that produces thyroid hormone.
  • Thyroid hormone is important for regulating many body functions, including metabolism, heart rate, digestion, and body temperature.
  • When your body produces too much or too little thyroid hormone, it is called thyroid dysfunction.
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) and Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone).
  • Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can lead to serious health complications if left untreated.

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