Thyroid disorders affect millions of Americans on an annual basis; however, many of those affected do not realize the cause of their symptoms or illness. The thyroid is an endocrine gland at the base of the neck that produces thyroid hormones; these hormones affect heart rate, metabolism, weight, body temperature, and keep vital organs such as the brain and heart functioning properly (American Thyroid Association [ATA], 2012a; National Cancer Institute [NCI], 2012).
Two of the most common conditions associated with thyroid disorder are hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. These disorders vary in symptoms and treatment; however, both can have detrimental effects on the body if left undiagnosed.
Hyperthyroidism refers to the condition in which the thyroid produces too much hormone (ATA, 2012a). This overproduction, increases metabolism rates, thus causing nervousness, irritability, anxiety, weight loss, and muscle weakness (ATA, 2012a). Physicians can easily diagnose hyperthyroidism through an enlarged thyroid and rapid pulse; however, laboratory tests will need to be performed for further confirmation (ATA, 2012a). Treatment options for hyperthyroidism include anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, surgery to remove part of the thyroid, and beta-blockers.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid is not producing enough hormones. This condition is often caused by autoimmune disease, surgical removal of the thyroid, radiation treatment, medicines, damage to the pituitary gland, or an inflammation of the thyroid. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include a decreased metabolism, weight gain, fatigue, depression, and constipation.
Although there is no cure for hypothyroidism, patients can manage the disorder through the use of a thyroxine medication; this medication must be taken daily for life (ATA, 2012b). Hypothyroidism is often difficult to diagnose as there are no consistent symptoms and many of the symptoms may be similar to other diseases (ATA, 2012b).
Although thyroid disorders can be considered severe in some cases, they can be managed through patient and physician communication. Furthermore, someone with thyroid disorder can continue to live an active lifestyle and is encouraged to do so through healthy eating, physical activity, and continued monitoring of their thyroid condition. Thyroid disorders can, and often are, hereditary so it is important for other family members to be screened so future complications can be prevented.
American Thyroid Association (2012a). Hyperthyroidism. Retrieved from http://www.thyroid.org/wp-content/uploads/patients/brochures/Hyper_brochure.pdf
American Thyroid Association (2012b). Hypothyroidism. Retrieved from http://www.thyroid.org/wp-content/uploads/patients/brochures/Hypo_brochure.pdf
National Cancer Institute (2012). What you need to know about thyroid cancer. Retrieved from http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/wyntk/thyroid.pdf
Julie Gardner, BS, MEd is currently pursuing a doctoral degree in Health Studies at Texas Woman's University with an emphasis in population health. She received her Master of Education in Education Administration from Tarleton State University in 2000. Julie currently works as a Community Health Specialist for Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in a partnership effort with Scott and White Health Plan serving Bell, Brazos, Llano, McLennan, and Williamson counties. Additionally, Julie suffers from hypothyroidism, but continues to lead an active lifestyle with her husband and two daughters.
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