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Types of Thyroid Disease + Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

Several types of thyroid disease exist, each with its symptoms and potential treatments. Read on for a comprehensive overview of the thyroid gland and its disorders.

How Common is Thyroid Disease?

Thyroid disease is widespread, affecting an estimated 20 million people in the United States. (1)

A graphical image of a young woman holding a red thyroid gland in front of her neck.

What is the Thyroid Gland?

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located on the lower front of the neck.

What Does the Thyroid Do?

The thyroid's job is to regulate and release thyroid hormones that control the metabolism. It accomplished its mission with two hormones -- T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine) -- which it secretes in just the right amounts to tell your body how much energy to use.

These hormones regulate your metabolic rate.

As it secretes these hormones, the thyroid makes more to take their place. But it doesn't determine how much it needs. Instead, the hypothalamus in the brain directs the entire process with essential help from the pituitary gland. 

It gives the order to the pituitary, a pea-shaped gland located at the base of the brain, to release thyroid-stimulating hormones when appropriate and monitor and regulate the amount of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream.

When the pituitary senses a high or low level of hormones in your body, it sends out precise amounts of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) that tell the thyroid to produce more or less of the T4 or T3 hormone. 

In this way, the hypothalamus, pituitary, and thyroid regulate thyroid hormone levels.

An image of a doctor feeling a senior woman's neck for thyroid disease.

Causes of Thyroid Disease

Here are two leading causes of thyroid disease.

Deficiency of Key Nutrients

Several nutrients are crucial for proper thyroid gland function, including zinc, selenium, and iodine.

  • Zinc: Essential for the synthesis of thyroid hormone
  • Selenium: Required to convert T4 into T3, the active form of thyroid hormone
  • Iodine: Crucial for making thyroid hormones.

Autoimmune Disease

Hashimoto's, an autoimmune disease, is the most common cause of hypothyroidism, which affects an estimated 5 in 100 Americans. (1a)

Can Thyroid Disease Be Cured?

There is no cure for thyroid disease, but several treatment options can regulate thyroid hormone levels and manage the symptoms.

Please see below for some of the available treatments options for thyroid issues.

What Are The Most Common Types of Thyroid Disorder?

There are five primary thyroid disorders. 

A 3d image of a thyroid gland surrounded by medical equipment and medicines with text that reads problem.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid is a chronic deficiency of essential thyroid hormones. The thyroid simply does not produce enough hormones.

It is a common thyroid problem and can easily be managed. But it can be fatal if left untreated.

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism can manifest with no symptoms, or it can include several.

The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include: (2)

  • Fatigue
  • Lethargy
  • Cold intolerance
  • Weight gain
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin

 

Less common symptoms include: (3)

  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Memory problems
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Hoarse voice
  • Menstrual cycle problems, i.e., irregular periods or heavy or lighter bleeding than normal

These symptoms can vary depending on age, sex, and other factors.

An image of a hand holding three blood sample test tubes with text that reads total T3, total T4, TSH.

Treatments for Underactive Thyroid

The standard treatment for hypothyroidism is thyroid hormone replacement therapy with the synthetic T4 hormone levothyroxine. Your doctor will initially check your TSH levels every six to eight weeks to determine the correct dosage. After that, levels will be reviewed every six months.

There are also a few ways to manage this disease naturally, including: 

  • Eliminating sugars and heavily processed foods from the diet. These foods cause inflammation in the body that can significantly slow the availability of T3 or T4 thyroid hormones.
  • Add more B vitamins to your diet. (Those with underactive thyroid disease are frequently deficient in some B vitamins.)
  • Get more exercise

Please keep in mind that while these natural treatments won’t cure hypothyroidism, they will help manage the symptoms.

An infographic showing graphical images of good and bad foods for thyroid health with explanatory test. Explanatory text is described below.

 

Infographic Text

Foods for thyroid infographic elements. Good: nuts, lean meat, eggs, probiotic-rich foods, lemon walnuts and honey, wild-caught fish, vegetables, shellfish and seaweed, coconut oil, kidney beans and navy beans, fruits, orange juice, pumpkin and sunflower seeds. Bad: fluoridated water, raw cruciferous vegetables, caffeine, alcohol, soy foods, fast food, carbonated soft drink, gluten-containing foods, foods containing sugar, processed meat products, refined vegetable oil and margarine, refined sugar.

End Infographic Text

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid is a condition in which your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone.

It is a reasonably common thyroid condition affecting one out of every 100 Americans 12 years and older. (4)

Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism are widely varied, easily mimicking many other health conditions. These signs and symptoms may include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Muscle weakness
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Nervousness
  • Irritability
  • Fatigue
  • Heat intolerance
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Sleep disorders
  • Goiter (an enlargement in the neck)

Treatments For Overactive Thyroid

There are several treatment options for hyperthyroidism. Here are just a few of them. (5)

  • Oral radioactive iodine. Absorbed by the thyroid gland, radioactive iodine causes the gland to shrink, reducing the thyroid hormone produced. Symptoms of overactive thyroid gradually subside within a few months.
  • Anti-thyroid medications block the thyroid gland from producing too much hormone. The two main drugs used for this purpose are methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil. Symptoms gradually recede, but therapy usually continues for at least a year.
  • Beta-Blockers. Typically used to treat high blood pressure, beta-blockers are sometimes used to reduce heart-related symptoms of hyperthyroidism, such as heart palpitations, rapid heart rate, and tremors.
  • Surgery. Your doctor may recommend surgery to remove most of the thyroid gland only as a last resort, though, as it can damage your vocal cords. After surgery, you’ll need lifelong drug treatment to supply your body with thyroid hormones.
An image of a stethoscope, an empty blood vial, and a syringe on a clipboard with text that reads Hashimoto's thyroiditis (HT).

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto's is an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks your thyroid gland, often leading to the death of hormone-producing cells.

Symptoms of Hashimoto's

In its earliest stages, Hashimoto's usually does not present any symptoms. But as the decline in thyroid hormones gradually worsen, varied symptoms can appear, including: (6)

  • Dry skin
  • Fatigue
  • Increase cold sensitivity
  • Muscle weakness
  • Constipation
  • Joint pain or stiffness
  • Irregular menstrual periods
  • Depression
  • Memory or concentration issues
  • Brittle nails
  • Hair loss
  • Goiter (swelling of the thyroid gland)

Treatments for Hashimoto's

There is no known cure for Hashimoto's thyroiditis. However, a few treatments will help you manage your symptoms. These treatments include:

  • Thyroid hormone replacement therapy with Levothyroxine
  • Surgery (thyroidectomy). Removing some or all of the thyroid gland in favor of administering hormone-controlling medications is sometimes the only way to manage this condition effectively.
  • Nutrition. Following a healthy, well-balanced diet is essential for managing the symptoms of any disease.

Graves' Disease

Graves' disease is an immune system malfunction resulting in hyperthyroidism or overproduction of thyroid hormone. It is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism.

Symptoms of Graves' Disease

  • Bulging eyes
  • Sleep issues
  • Anxiety
  • Slight tremors of the hands or fingers
  • Irritability
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Heat sensitivity
  • Fatigue
  • Goiter
  • Menstrual cycle disturbances
  • Erectile dysfunction
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

Treatments For Graves' Disease

If you have Graves' disease, your doctor may prescribe one or more of these treatment options.

  • Anti-thyroid medications to reduce the production of thyroid hormones
  • Beta-blockers to relieve some of the symptoms
  • Thyroidectomy to remove most or all of the thyroid gland
  • Radioactive iodine therapy to reduce the amount of thyroid hormone produced
  • Well-balanced diet to reduce some of the symptoms of Graves' disease

Thyroid Cancer

This is a type of cancer that develops in the thyroid gland cells.

According to the CDC, about 12,000 men and 33,000 women get diagnosed with thyroid cancer every year. (6a)

Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Thyroid cancer does not always exhibit symptoms. But when they occur, they can include:

  • Swelling or lump in the neck
  • Neck pain
  • Difficulty swallowing
  • Vocal changes, such as hoarseness
  • Frequent cough

Treatments for Thyroid Cancer

There are several treatments for thyroid cancer, including;

  • Surgery. This is the primary treatment for thyroid cancer, as removing all or part of the thyroid is crucial for stopping its spread.
  • Radioactive iodine therapy. In this treatment, the iodine mainly collects in thyroid cells, which can destroy the gland and its cancerous cells without affecting the rest of the body.
  • Thyroid hormone therapy. This is used to provide the thyroid hormones after the thyroid gland is removed by surgery or destroyed by radioactive iodine therapy.
  • Chemotherapy. In this treatment, anti-cancer drugs are injected into a vein or given orally.

Thyroid Disease Risk Factors

At this point, you're probably wondering if you're at risk for developing thyroid disease. Here are the most common risk factors of this disease.

  • Being female. Women are five to eight times more likely to develop thyroid disease than men.
  • Family history
  • Those over age 60. Age is a significant risk factor of thyroid disease, especially for women.
  • Preexisting autoimmune disorder.
  • Previous thyroid surgery
  • Recent treatment withradioactive iodine or radiation
  • Recent pregnancy or childbirth within the previous six to eight months. During pregnancy, women produce higher levels of two hormones -- human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG and estrogen -- which cause elevated thyroid hormone levels in the bloodstream. This often leads to a slightly enlarged thyroid gland, as well. These changes can be dangerous for the fetus and the mother.
  • Getting radiation treatments around the neck (This is the leading risk factor for thyroid cancer.)
  • Diet too low or too high in iodine

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References

1- https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8541-thyroid-disease

1a- https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hashimotos-disease

2- https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6619426/

3- https://drlorikalie.com/less-common-symptoms-hypothyroidism/

4- https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hyperthyroidism

5- https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyperthyroidism/diagnosis-treatment/drc-20373665

6- https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hashimotos-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20351855

6a - https://www.cdc.gov/cancer/thyroid/index.htm

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