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What Is Thyroid Disease, and Do You Have It?

Reviewed by Kathryn Dinh, MD, Endocrinologist at Galen Center for Diabetes & Endocrinology

Did you know that an estimated 20 million Americans are affected by some form of thyroid disease? Many of those individuals are completely unaware of their condition. Thyroid disease is the general term for a medical condition that prevents your thyroid from making the right number of hormones. Your body’s thyroid has the job of regulating the hormones that keep your body functioning normally. There are two main disorders associated with thyroid disease: Hyperthyroidism, and Hypothyroidism.

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the body is making too much of the thyroid hormone and is using energy too quickly. When the thyroid is overactive, your body can have an increased heartbeat, feel too hot, cause you to lose weight, and make you feel nervous. On the other hand, hypothyroidism can cause you to feel tired, gain weight, and might cause you to be unable to tolerate cold temperatures. When you have hypothyroidism, the body is not making enough of the thyroid hormone and your bloodwork will show abnormal hormone levels.   A common question asked by patients to physicians is who is affected by thyroid disease. Although women are 5-8 times more likely to get diagnosed with a thyroid condition compared to men, it can affect men, women, infants, teenagers, and the elderly.

An individual may be at a higher risk of developing thyroid disease if they:

  • Have a family history of Thyroid disease
  • Have a medical condition such as pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and other autoimmune diseases
  • Currently taking a medication that is high in iodine (like amiodarone) or lithium
  • Are older than 60, especially in women
  • Have had any previous treatment for a thyroid condition or cancer

What causes thyroid disease?

As mentioned previously, the two main types of thyroid disease are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. Both conditions can be caused by other diseases that interfere with how the thyroid gland works. Conditions that cause hypothyroidism are:

  • Thyroiditis
  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • Postpartum thyroiditis
  • Iodine deficiency
  • A non-functioning thyroid gland

Conditions that cause hyperthyroidism are:

  • Graves disease
  • Overactive nodules
  • Thyroiditis
  • Excessive iodine

How is thyroid disease treated?

The goal when treating thyroid disease is to get the thyroid hormone levels back to normal. This can be done in a few different ways.

  • Anti-thyroid drugs: Medications that stop your thyroid from making hormones
  • Radioactive iodine: This treatment damages the cells of the thyroid, keeping it from making high levels of thyroid hormones. Most patients, but not all, will need thyroid hormone replacement after radioactive iodine
  • Beta-Blockers: Medications that don’t change the number of hormones in your body, but they help control your symptoms
  • Surgery: The more permanent form of treatment, your healthcare provider may surgically remove your thyroid gland. Which will stop it from creating hormones. This is usually reserved for special cases
  • Thyroid hormone replacement: When the thyroid does not make enough hormones, replacement is necessary. This is generally done by taking levothyroxine, which is the primary hormone that the thyroid makes. 

When to see a doctor: 

Having a thyroid disease can be difficult, but at the Galen Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology, our providers are ready to help you. Our staff is experts when it comes to identifying and treating thyroid disease. Through an education-based care philosophy, our providers strive to help patients understand the disease, how to manage the disease, and how to live an active life. If you believe you are experiencing symptoms associated with thyroid disease, or if you currently have thyroid disease, our staff at Galen Center for Diabetes and Endocrinology is here to help. Call our office today at (423) 954-9010 to schedule an appointment with one of our providers!