Approximately 27 million people in the United States are affected by thyroid disorders, but some may not even know they have one. Those affected may experience symptoms associated with slower or faster than normal bodily processes, such as weight gain or weight loss, tiredness, or dry hair and skin. Others may feel fatigued or experience joint pain and weakness in the muscles as an additional symptom of a thyroid disorder. Depending upon the particular type of thyroid disorder, the symptoms can vary. Learn more about the thyroid and common disorders below.
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What Does the Thyroid Do?
Your thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located inside your neck. A healthy thyroid produces hormones that regulate important bodily functions, including those that help the body use energy, stay warm, and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working properly.
Types of Thyroid Disorders
Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, is common in women ages 20–40, but can also affect men. If you have hyperthyroidism, your thyroid produces too much hormone. This can speed up several of your bodily functions, including those associated with your metabolism. Hyperthyroidism can be caused by Graves’s disease, thyroid nodules, too much thyroid hormone medication, or thyroiditis (inflammation of the gland). Symptoms can include:
- Diarrhea or frequent bowel movements
- Intolerance to heat and increased sweating
- Irritability and anxiety
- Menstrual irregularities
- Muscle weakness
- Rapid heartbeat
- Trembling hands
- Vision problems (eye irritation or trouble seeing)
- Weight loss
Antithyroid medications and beta-blockers can be used to treat hyperthyroidism. If they are not effective, radioactive iodine treatment or surgical removal of the thyroid may be used as secondary options.
An underactive thyroid, known as hypothyroidism, means that your thyroid does not produce enough hormones. The underproduction of hormones can lead to slower bodily processes. Hashimoto’s disease, or chronic inflammation of the thyroid, is a leading cause of this condition. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Dry skin and hair
- Feeling cold
- Menstrual irregularities
- Mental depression
- Weight gain
Thyroxine, a hormone replacement medication, is prescribed for the treatment for hypothyroidism. Since people with hypothyroidism typically have to take thyroxine for the rest of their lives, and the dose may vary from person to person, working closely with your doctor to manage this condition is important.
A thyroid nodule is a lump on the thyroid that is made up of a growth of cells. Nodules typically do not cause symptoms, but you or your doctor may notice a lump in your neck. Thyroid nodules are common, and they are typically detected during routine exams or testing, such as a CT scan or ultrasound, for other reasons. If you have Hashimoto’s disease, you may be at an increased risk of developing nodules.
Although many nodules are benign, your doctor may perform an ultrasound, needle biopsy, or nuclear scan to determine if the nodule is cancerous. Nodules that may be cancerous are surgically removed.
If you think you may have a thyroid disorder, talk to your doctor or endocrinologist. For more information, please visit the Multidisciplinary Thyroid Center at UPMC website or call 412-586-9205 to schedule an appointment.
The UPMC Department of Endocrinology stands as a national leader in research of diabetes and endocrine conditions. We partner with the University of Pittsburgh Division of Endocrinology and Metabolism for research and clinical trials. We treat diabetes, obesity, osteoporosis, hormonal disorders, and thyroid disorders at several locations across our communities. We also have specialized Diabetes Centers to help you manage your disease. Find an expert near you.