Basic Understanding of Thyroid Problems

thyroid problemsThe thyroid gland has an influence on all the metabolic processes in your body by means of the hormones it produces. Thyroid problems can vary from a small enlarged gland that requires no treatment to life threatening cancer. Abnormal production of thyroid hormones is one of the most common thyroid problems. Over production of thyroid hormone leads to a condition called as hyperthyroidism. On the other hand, less than normal production of the thyroid hormone results in hypothyroidism.

Even though the effects of thyroid problems are unpleasant and uncomfortable, most of these problems are manageable if diagnosis and treatment is done in a right way.

Causes of Thyroid Problems

Hyperthyroidism

All types of hyperthyroidism are a result of excessive production of thyroid hormones. But the causes are many that can lead to this condition:

  • Graves’ disease: It is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism which involves excessive production of the thyroid hormone.
  • Toxic adenomas: Nodules that develop in the thyroid gland upset the body’s chemical balance by secreting thyroid hormones.  Several of these nodules may be present in some goiters.
  • Subacute thyroiditis: Temporary hyperthyroidism may occur due to the inflammation of the thyroid. This is due to the leakage of excess hormones by the gland as a result of inflammation. This condition may persist from few weeks to sometimes months.
  • Malfunctions of the pituitary gland or presence of cancerous growths in the thyroid gland: These also can cause hyperthyroidism but in rare cases.

Hypothyroidism

In contrast, less than normal production of thyroid hormones leads to hypothyroidism. Your body’s energy production requires certain levels of thyroid hormones. As a result of drop in the production of the hormone, your energy levels will also drop.

Causes of hypothyroidism:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis : It is a type of autoimmune disorder in which the body attacks thyroid tissue. Eventually the tissue dies thereby stopping the production of hormones.
  • Removal of the thyroid gland: Surgical removal of the thyroid gland can lead to this condition. Also as a measure to treat any other disorder, the gland may be chemically destroyed.
  • Exposure to excessive amounts of iodide:  Certain medicines related to cold and sinus or the medicine amiodarone related to heart, or certain contrast dyes given before taking X-rays may expose you to too much iodine. Your chances of developing hypothyroidism increases if in the past,  you have had any thyroid problems.
  • Lithium : Too much exposure to lithium also causes hypothyroidism.

If left untreated for long periods of time, hypothyroidism can result in myxedema coma. It is a rare but potentially life threatening condition which needs immediate hormonal treatment.

Dangers in Newborns and Infants due to Thyroid Problems

In newborns and infants, hypothyroidism poses a special threat. A lack or low levels of thyroid hormones in the body at such an early age may lead to mental retardation (cretinism) and  stunted growth (dwarfism). It has become a routine to check the thyroid levels in most infants soon after birth. Treatment begins immediately if they have hypothyroidism. As in adults, hypothyroidism in infants may be due to the following causes:

  • Absence of the gland
  • Presence of a defective thyroid gland
  • As a result of pituitary disorder

Symptoms in a hypothyroid infant include being inactive and quiet, poor appetite, and sleeping excessively for long periods of time.

Only in rare cases, cancer of the thyroid gland occurs and in only about 5% of thyroid nodules. You may have one or more nodules in the thyroid for many years before they turn cancerous. The risk of developing thyroid cancer increases if a person has received any radiation treatment to the head and neck regions as a preventive measure for acne.

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