What is thyroid disease?
Your thyroid is a gland
located in the front of your neck. Put your hand on your neck (with your fingers and thumb on either side of your "Adam's apple") and swallow. That lump you may feel moving up and down is your thyroid gland. Like all glands, the thyroid produces hormones. A hormone is a substance that is made in one part of the body and released into the bloodstream. Once in the bloodstream, hormones can travel to and act on many other parts of the body. In the case of the thyroid, the hormones it produces control your metabolism
. That means your thyroid helps regulate the way your body uses the fuel (calories) from the food you eat.
There are three basic thyroid problems that can come on during your teens: hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone), hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone), and goiter (an enlargement of the thyroid gland). Each has different symptoms and causes different problems. Some thyroid problems tend to run in families. And teens are more likely to get thyroid problems than younger kids. back to top
How do you get thyroid disease?
No one knows exactly what causes thyroid disease. Many thyroid problems appear to be autoimmune diseases. In an autoimmune disease
, the body mistakenly identifies a normal body part as foreign and attacks it.
Goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland) can be caused by a defect or problem that keeps your thyroid from producing enough hormone. Some people get goiter because they don't get enough iodine in the food they eat. This is very unusual in the United States because iodine is added to all table salt and salt that is used in prepared food. back to top
What are the symptoms of thyroid disease?
The symptoms of thyroid disease depend on the type of problem that you have.
For hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone), the typical symptoms include:
- tiredness (lethargy)
- always feeling cold
- being unable to concentrate
- weight gain
- slow growth rate
- delayed puberty
- irregular periods
For hyperthyroidism (too much thyroid hormone), the typical symptoms include:
- enlarged thyroid gland
- protruding (bulging) eyes
- racing heartbeat
- always feeling hot
- weight loss despite increased appetite
- loss of your period or irregular periods
- body shaking (tremors)
- emotional sensitivity (mood swings, crying easily)
The typical symptoms of goiter include:
How can I find out if I have thyroid disease?
- enlarged thyroid gland
- some of the same symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism back to top
Most people do not suspect that they have thyroid disease. The symptoms are often vague. That's why your health professional takes a full medical history during a physical exam. Doctors and nurse practitioners are trained to ask you a bunch of questions that may seem unrelated, but are designed to check for unusual things like thyroid disease.
If your health professional thinks you have thyroid disease, she or he will order a simple blood test to measure the level of your thyroid hormones. If the hormone levels are too high or too low, you may need to have a special scan of your neck. This test checks the size of your thyroid gland and the way that it works. back to top
How do you treat thyroid disease?
The treatment for thyroid disease depends on the specific problem. If you have hypothyroidism, your health professional will probably prescribe thyroid hormone pills. These supplements will increase the level of thyroid hormone in your blood. It may take several weeks for all the symptoms to go away.
The treatment for hyperthyroidism is a medication called PTU (propylthiouracil). PTU reduces the amount of thyroid hormone that your thyroid gland produces. It usually takes 1 to 2 months to feel well again. If you have those Bette Davis protruding eyes that come with hyperthyroidism, the bulging will probably go away once your hormone level is under control.
Treatment for goiter is tailored to the individual. The results of blood tests and the thyroid scan guide your health professional in figuring out the best treatment. That's why they say medicine is an art, not a science! back to top