Understanding Thyroid Problems -- Diagnosis and Treatment
What Are the Treatments for Thyroid Problems? continued...
You should always receive a professional evaluation for any thyroid disorder; most of these conditions require treatment beyond the scope of home care alone.
Treating hyperthyroidism requires suppressing the manufacture of thyroid hormone, while hypothyroidism demands hormone replacement. Conventional medicine offers extremely effective techniques for lowering, eliminating, or supplementing hormone production. Before deciding which treatment is best for you, your doctor will make an evaluation based on your particular thyroid condition, as well as your age, general health, and medical history.
Treatments for Hyperthyroidism
Thyroid hormone production can be suppressed or halted completely in these ways:
- Radioactive iodide treatment
- Anti-thyroid medication
If your doctor decides that radioactive treatment is best, you will be asked to swallow a tablet or liquid containing radioactive iodide in amounts large enough to damage the cells of your thyroid gland and limit or destroy their ability to produce hormones. Occasionally, more than one treatment is needed to restore normal hormone production, and many patients actually develop hypothyroidism as a result of this procedure. This is the most common therapy for hyperthyroidism in the U.S.
If you start using anti-thyroid medications, your hyperthyroid symptoms should begin to disappear in about six to eight weeks. However, you will need to continue taking the medication for about a year. After that time, you will also need to receive periodic medical exams to make sure that the condition has not returned.
Surgery is sometimes recommended for people under age 45 when their hyperthyroidism is due to toxic nodules, because these nodules tend to be resistant to anti-thyroid medications. Once the tissue is removed surgically, hormone levels typically return to normal within a few weeks.
Treating Subacute Thyroiditis
Although subacute thyroiditis can bring on temporary hyperthyroidism, this condition usually does not require medical treatment. Any pain associated with the inflamed thyroid can generally be relieved with acetaminophen (Tylenol or Anacin, e.g.) or aspirin. If over-the-counter drugs don't help, a doctor may prescribe prednisone or dexamethasone -- powerful anti-inflammatory drugs -- for a short period of time. Because both of these drugs may encourage the development of stomach ulcers and the loss of bone mass, however, ask your doctor if you should also be taking calcium supplements.
Hypothyroidism calls for a lifelong regimen of thyroid replacement. No surgical techniques or conventional drugs can increase the thyroid's hormone production once it slows down. Doctors generally prescribe synthetic forms of thyroid hormone, such as levothyroxine. Side effects are rare, but some people experience nervousness or chest pain while taking these drugs; usually, adjusting the levels of medication will alleviate any unpleasant effects. Tell your doctor if you are also taking tricyclic antidepressants, estrogens, the blood-thinning drug warfarin, the heart drug digitalis, or if you have diabetes, to make sure medications don't interfere with the thyroid treatment. Magnesium, aluminum, iron and even soy may interfere.
Treating Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is usually initially treated by surgically removing either the cancerous tissue or the whole thyroid gland, a procedure known as a thyroidectomy. If the cancer has spread beyond the thyroid, any other affected tissue, such as the lymph glands in the neck, will also be removed.