The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ at the front of your neck. It is vital in producing hormones that control metabolism, growth, and brain activity. Issues arise when this gland is underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive (hyperthyroidism).
In hypothyroidism, too little thyroid hormone is produced. This can cause symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, and cold intolerance. On the other hand, an overactive thyroid gland can cause weight loss, nervousness, and difficulty sleeping.
These problems can be diagnosed by a doctor and treated with medication and other interventions to alleviate these symptoms.
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There are many early warning signs that may indicate thyroid issues. If your thyroid gland is either underactive or overactive, you may notice a range of symptoms, including:
Changes in heart rate
Sensitivity to cold or warm temperatures
Dry or oily skin
Enlarged thyroid gland
Changes in digestion, including constipation or diarrhea
These symptoms should be discussed with a doctor, especially if thyroid problems run in your family. There are numerous treatments available for thyroid problems.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is underactive, releasing insufficient thyroid hormones.
These hormones include T3, T4, and calcitonin, all with unique functions. There are numerous causes of hypothyroidism, including:
Autoimmune diseases (when the immune system attacks the thyroid gland)
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is overactive and can be caused by numerous factors. An overactive thyroid gland produces excessive thyroid hormones.
Hyperthyroidism is less common than hypothyroidism and usually occurs in people over the age of 60. The causes of hyperthyroidism include:
Tumors in the pituitary gland
Overactivity of the thyroid nodules
Graves’ disease (caused by an overactivity of the immune system)
Hypothyroidism in infants generally occurs due to autoimmune diseases. Reduced amounts of thyroid hormones can affect a child's development and cause a range of issues.
However, some symptoms can also occur due to other disorders. This makes it initially difficult to attribute these symptoms to problems with the thyroid gland.
It is essential to talk to a physician if these symptoms are noticed. They include:
Changes in feeding pattern
Yellowing of the skin and eyes
Puffiness in the face
Swelling of the tongue
Large soft spot on the head
Hypothyroidism occurs in around 1 in 1,000 young people and is more common in females. Young people can either be born with an underactive thyroid gland (congenital hypothyroidism) or develop this disorder later in life (acquired hypothyroidism).
Congenital hypothyroidism often occurs when the immune system damages thyroid cells. Symptoms include:
It is highly recommended to visit a doctor if you are experiencing any symptoms suggesting you may have underlying thyroid problems.
If your child is experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, including delayed growth or feeding issues, talk to a pediatrician or doctor as soon as possible.
Your doctor will likely order a blood test if symptoms indicate thyroid problems. This test will verify the levels of thyroid hormones and thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) in your bloodstream. The results will show the thyroid function.
Doctors can also order a thyroid antibody test, which will test for an immune reaction to your thyroid gland, to rule out autoimmune conditions. A doctor will help diagnose any problems and then start the appropriate treatment.
There are numerous treatments available for thyroid problems.
Hypothyroidism is treated with medication, such as levothyroxine, that mimics the hormones that the thyroid gland is not producing. This should help to alleviate any symptoms associated with low thyroid hormone levels.
Hyperthyroidism is treated with one of the following:
Medication (including thionamide, which decreases the levels of hormones made by the thyroid gland)¹
Radioactive iodine treatment (destroys overactive thyroid cells and decreases the amount of hormone the cells are producing)
Surgery (less common treatment but can be used in some cases; it involves removing parts of the thyroid gland to minimize the amounts of hormone produced)
The thyroid gland is an organ in your neck producing hormones that play several roles around the whole body, including metabolism, growth, and brain function.
The thyroid gland can become overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism). Hypothyroidism symptoms can include weight change, growth problems, and a swollen face.
Thyroid problems can be diagnosed and treated by doctors, with numerous treatment options available.
Thyroid problems can occur at any time. Some people are born with thyroid problems, and infants can display symptoms such as yellowing of the skin and stunted growth. Some thyroid problems, such as hyperthyroidism, are more common in people over the age of 30 and are also more prevalent in women.²
If your thyroid gland is overactive, you may feel jittery with attacks of anxiety, irritability, and hyperactivity. You may feel nervous, experience mood swings, and have sleep disorders. Conversely, if your thyroid gland is underactive, you may experience low energy, often feeling tired and depressed.
Some of the early symptoms you may experience with thyroid problems include changes in digestion, such as constipation or diarrhea. Other early symptoms include changes in mood and weight and difficulty regulating your body temperature.
It is possible to have visible signs indicating thyroid problems present. These include changes in weight, swollen face, red or bulging eyes, and dry or oily skin.
Hyperthyroidism (Overactive thyroid) | National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Graves’ disease | National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK)
Acquired hypothyroidism in children | Standford Medicine