What Are Thyroid Problems?
Through the hormones it produces, the thyroid gland influences almost all of the metabolic processes in your body. Thyroid disorders can range from a small, harmless goiter (enlarged gland) that needs no treatment, to life-threatening cancer. The most common thyroid problems involve abnormal production of thyroid hormones. Too much thyroid hormone results in a condition known as hyperthyroidism. Not enough hormone production leads to hypothyroidism. Although the effects can be unpleasant or uncomfortable, most thyroid problems can be managed well if properly diagnosed and treated.
What Causes Thyroid Problems?
All types of hyperthyroidism are due to an overproduction of thyroid hormones, but the condition can occur in several ways:
Graves' disease: The production of too much thyroid hormone.
Toxic adenomas: Nodules that form in the thyroid gland and upset the body’s chemical balance by making thyroid hormones. Some goiters may contain several of these nodules.
Subacute thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid that causes the gland to "leak" excess hormones. This leads to temporary hyperthyroidism that generally lasts a few weeks but may persist for months.
Pituitary gland malfunctions or cancerous growths in the thyroid gland: In rare cases, these can cause hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism, by contrast, stems from an underproduction of thyroid hormones. Since your body needs certain amounts of thyroid hormones to make energy, a drop in hormone production leads to lower energy levels. Causes of hypothyroidism include:
Hashimoto's thyroiditis: In this autoimmune disorder, the body attacks thyroid tissue. The tissue eventually dies and stops producing hormones.
Removal of the thyroid gland: The thyroid may have been surgically removed or chemically destroyed.
Exposure to excessive amounts of iodine: Cold and sinus medicines, the heart medicine amiodarone, or certain contrast dyes given before some X-rays may expose you to too much iodine.
Past thyroid issues: You may be at greater risk for hypothyroidism if you have had thyroid problems in the past.
Lithium: This drug has also linked to hypothyroidism.
If hypothyroidism is left untreated, it can bring on myxedema coma. a rare but potentially fatal condition that requires hormone treatment right away.
Hypothyroidism poses a special danger to newborns and infants. A lack of thyroid hormones in the system at an early age can lead to the development of intellectual disability and dwarfism (stunted growth). Doctors now regularly check the thyroid levels of most babies soon after birth. If the levels are low, treatment starts right away. The causes of hypothyroidism in babies is the same as for adults:
- A pituitary disorder
- A defective thyroid
- A missing thyroid gland
An infant with hypothyroidism is unusually inactive and quiet, has a poor appetite, and sleeps for very long periods of time.
Cancer of the thyroid gland is quite rare and occurs in about 5% of thyroid nodules. You might have one or more thyroid nodules for several years before your doctor finds that they're cancerous. If you've had radiation treatment to your head and neck earlier in life, possibly as a remedy for acne, you may have a higher-than-normal risk of getting thyroid cancer.