A Look at Thyroid Disease
The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland covering the windpipe in your neck. It is part of the endocrine system, a network of glands which regulate tissue and organ function by secreting hormones into the bloodstream. The thyroid gland regulates metabolism, and growth and development with thyroid hormones (T4, T3). Thyroid hormones regulate cell metabolism (energy production), which affects nearly every organ and cell in the body.
When the thyroid gland produces less hormones than the body needs, the result is hypothyroidism. When more hormones are produced than necessary, the result is hyperthyroidism. Timely detection and proper treatment of these conditions allows patients to lead normal active lives. But, left untreated, serious negative health effects can result.
What clues should you be looking for? If you have any of the following symptoms, or you suspect there is a problem with your thyroid, contact your doctor.
When the thyroid is not producing enough hormones, body systems are slowed. Hypothyroidism may cause:
- Slow mental activity with poor memory
- Slow physical activity
- Weakness and fatigue
- Cold intolerance
- Dry skin and hair loss
- Depressed mood
- Problems with menstruation
Complications of untreated hypothyroidism may include:
- Goiter—An enlarged thyroid gland.
- Heart-related diseases, such as heart failure, or high cholesterol.
- Peripheral neuropathy.
- Myxedema—Swelling and thickening of the skin. If left untreated, myxedema can eventually lead to a coma.
When the thyroid produces too many hormones, body systems are sped up. Hyperthyroidism may cause:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Increased sweating
- Tremors in the hand
- Difficulty sleeping
- Problems with menstruation
- Frequent bowel movements
Complications of untreated hyperthyroidism include:
- Abnormal heart beats, known as arrhythmias, or atrial fibrillation
- Heart failure
- High blood pressure
- Sudden cardiac arrest
Subclinical Thyroid Conditions
There are subclinical versions of these thyroid conditions. This occurs when you do not have symptoms, but abnormalities show up in routine blood tests.
Subclinical hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are associated with increased risk of heart-related health conditions. It is generally recommended that subclinical thyroid disorders be treated, although there is some controversy. Your doctor may suggest a wait and see approach before deciding on a course of action.
Last reviewedAugust 2013by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.