The thyroid might be tiny, but it plays a vital role in how well our bodies function. The butterfly-shaped gland below the “Adam’s apple” produces hormones that regulate metabolism, break down cholesterol, and allow our brains to communicate with nerves and chemical neurotransmitters. Too little or too much of this hormone can cause debilitating symptoms, but these are easily managed with the right treatment.
According to the American Thyroid Association (ATA), around 20 million Americans are currently affected by thyroid disease or disorder. Conditions such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are more common in women than in men, with an estimated one in eight developing a thyroid disorder at some point in her lifetime.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, you may be wondering what to do next, and what your treatment will entail. Read on for more information about how to live well with a thyroid condition.
If you’ve been to see your doctor, chances are you have experienced some of the symptoms of a thyroid disorder. Your practitioner will respond to your concerns by performing a medical exam, assessing your medical history, and taking a blood sample to determine how your thyroid is functioning. The results may take a few days or weeks, and you may be diagnosed with either hypo or hyperthyroidism.
Hypo and Hyper: Know the Difference
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are the two most common thyroid conditions in the United States. If you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, it’s important to understand the difference between the two types so you can treat your symptoms.
Hypothyroidism results from an underactive thyroid (i.e. a gland that doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone). Symptoms include weight gain, depression, extreme fatigue, brain fog, dry skin, constipation, fluid retention, feeling cold, and excessive menstrual bleeding in women. Many of these symptoms can be attributed to other conditions or lifestyle choices, which is why so many sufferers go undiagnosed for years.
Hyperthyroidism is when the over-active thyroid gland produces an excessive amount of hormones. Symptoms include unexplained weight loss, nervousness, poor sleep, increased sweating, trouble concentrating, fast heart rate, and an increase in bowel movements.
Other thyroid disorders include goiter (enlargement of the thyroid gland), thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer. These conditions may require special screening to diagnose.
What Causes Thyroid Disorders?
A thyroid disorder is usually passed down through genetics, or else it is a symptom of an underlying autoimmune condition. Doctors remain unsure what causes autoimmunity, but genetics and family history are thought to play a part. Again, autoimmune diseases are more common in women than in men. Disorders like Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can’t be prevented, and they can lead to either hypo or hyperthyroidism.
Other causes of hypothyroidism include thyroid resistance and inflammation of the thyroid gland, whereas hyperthyroidism can result from toxic multinodular goiter and excessive iodine consumption.
Living With a Thyroid Disorder
Both underactive and overactive thyroids can be treated with medication that increases or suppresses production of the T4 hormone. For patients diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a synthetic hormone is given in pill form. Most patients see a marked reduction in symptoms once they begin treatment. Although there is no known cure for either hypo or hyperthyroidism, these disorders can be managed with medical treatment, and the outlook is good.
Treating Your Thyroid Disorder
It goes without saying that everybody is different, so while thyroid medications may be the complete answer for some patients, others may find that a holistic approach alongside taking medication helps them manage their symptoms better.
It’s important not to stop taking your thyroid medication, even if you don’t notice a change in your symptoms. If you feel the medication isn’t working, speak to your doctor about increasing your dose.
Not taking medication for hypothyroidism could result in memory problems, muscle weakness, depression, trouble getting or staying pregnant, hair loss, increased risk of infection, and ultimately myxedema coma — which can ultimately be fatal. Failing to treat hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, could cause insomnia, heart palpitations, high blood pressure, menstrual irregularities, and eventually heart attack or stroke.
Doctors advise you treat both conditions with medication, diet, and exercise. Symptoms such as depression, anxiety, or heart problems can be treated with medicines alongside thyroid treatment.
If you have recently been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, it’s important to educate yourself so you can be sure you’re getting the right treatment. Read up on your condition, see a specialist, and pay attention to what your body is telling you. You could even think about undergoing some healthcare training if you’re keen to learn more about hyper or hypothyroidism or you want to help others with these conditions. The Healthcare Career Guide is an excellent resource for anyone thinking about entering the healthcare field.
Adjusting Your Iodine Intake
The functioning thyroid uses iodine to produce vital hormones in the body. Therefore, if you’re diagnosed with hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid), you will need to increase your intake of iodine-rich foods. If your thyroid is overactive (hyperthyroidism), then your doctor may advise you to avoid over-consumption of iodine by cutting out certain foods.
Iodine-rich foods include sea vegetables (such as kelp and kombu), cranberries, navy beans, organic yoghurt, raw cheese, and organic potatoes. Your doctor may also suggest you take an iodine supplement if your levels are particularly low.
Getting regular exercise is a healthy choice for all of us, but it’s never more important than when you have a thyroid disorder. Exercise can help lessen the symptoms of these conditions and help you maintain a healthy weight while boosting your mood. A program of low-impact aerobics and strength weight training is best for getting your heart rate up without putting too much pressure on your joints.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, don’t despair. While these conditions can’t be prevented or cured, most people with hypo or hyperthyroidism go on to live normal lives while managing their symptoms. So, learn about your thyroid condition, adjust your diet and exercise routine accordingly, and be sure to follow your doctor’s advice.
Photo by Iqbal Osman1