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Understanding Thyroid Problems -- Diagnosis and Treatment

What Are the Treatments for Thyroid Problems?

For thyroid disorders stemming from the over- or under-production of thyroid hormones, both conventional and alternative treatments offer varied methods to try to restore hormone levels to their proper balance. Conventional treatments rely mainly on drugs and surgery. Alternative treatments attempt to relieve some of the discomfort associated with thyroid problems, or to improve the function of the thyroid gland through approaches ranging from diet supplements and herbal remedies to lifestyle changes and special exercises. 

You should always receive a medical evaluation from your doctor 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
  • Surgery

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. At that time, your doctor will check to see if the medicine can be stopped. You will need to receive periodic medical exams once you are off the medicine to make sure that the condition has not returned.

Surgery is usually reserved for pregnant women who can’t take anti-thyroid medicine, or people with large goiters or cancerous nodules.

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) or aspirin. Do not use aspirin in children under the age of 19 because it increases the risk of Reye Syndrome.  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.

Treating Hypothyroidism

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.

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