Hyperthyroidism? Hypothyroidism? Hashimoto’s? When it comes to thyroid health, it can get confusing. With 1/10 Canadians having a thyroid condition and 50% going undiagnosed, it is important to know what these conditions are, and how they can show up in our bodies. Keep reading to learn about why your thyroid is so important and the common conditions that can impact how it functions.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located at the front of the neck, above the collarbone. An endocrine gland is a gland that produces hormones that regulate different body systems and functions. The thyroid hormones (T3 and T4) regulate multiple body functions including your:
Sometimes, this careful system of hormone regulation doesn’t work properly, and the cause is likely a thyroid condition. There are multiple thyroid conditions including Hypothyroidism, Hashimoto’s Disease, Hyperthyroidism, Graves’ Disease, Thyroiditis, and Thyroid Cancer.
Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Disease
"Hypo" means under or below. If diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you have an under-active thyroid gland that does not produce enough thyroid hormones. Hypothyroidism causes many body systems to slow down, resulting in symptoms such as:
Hashimoto’s Disease (or Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis) is an autoimmune disorder, meaning that the body is attacking itself. In this condition, antibodies abnormally attack and damage the thyroid, leaving it unable to produce enough thyroid hormones. The symptoms of Hashimoto’s can take years to appear and can include all symptoms of hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s is often genetic and occurs more commonly in women, but can also be caused by hepatitis C, various medications, and exposure to nuclear radiation.
To diagnose hypothyroidism, a blood test is completed to assess the thyroid hormone levels in your blood. If your doctor suspects that your hypothyroidism may be caused by Hashimoto’s, they will also test for antibodies in your blood. If diagnosed, doctors will prescribe thyroid medication that contains the thyroid hormones your body is not producing enough of.
Have you been diagnosed with Hashimoto’s Disease or Hypothyroidism and are looking for nutritional support? Our dietitians can help you!
Hyperthyroidism and Graves’ Disease
Hyperthyroidism is the exact opposite of hypothyroidism. Hyper – means over or in excess. If diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, you have an overactive thyroid gland that produces too many hormones. In hyperthyroidism, many body systems speed up, resulting in symptoms such as:
Graves’ Disease is an autoimmune disorder where antibodies abnormally attach to the thyroid gland, causing it to produce more thyroid hormones than normal. It is unknown what exactly causes Graves’ Disease, but it may be genetic. The symptoms of Graves’ Disease can include all symptoms of hyperthyroidism as well as Graves’ Eye Disease (eyes that are red and bulging, swollen eyelids and double or reduced vision) and/or Graves’ Dermopathy (red, thickened skin on shins and tops of feet).
To diagnose hyperthyroidism, a blood test is completed to assess the thyroid hormone levels in your blood. If your doctor suspects that your hyperthyroidism is caused by Graves’ Disease, they will also test for antibodies in your blood and may ask you to complete a thyroid ultrasound, or a radioactive iodine test (radioactive iodine is ingested, and the thyroid is scanned to see how much iodine it absorbed). If diagnosed, doctors will prescribe anti-thyroid medication to block thyroid hormone production and often beta blockers to treat symptoms. In some cases, thyroid cells are destroyed using radioactive iodine or the thyroid is surgically removed.
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Postpartum Thyroiditis is when the thyroid becomes inflamed after delivering a baby. 5-10/100 women will experience this condition and it is more common in women with a history of thyroid disease. Women diagnosed with Postpartum Thyroiditis experience two stages: hyperthyroidism 1-4 months after giving birth and then hypothyroidism 4-8 months after giving birth. The symptoms typically subside within 12-18 months, and few women remain hypothyroid for life. For treatment, women may be given anti-thyroid medication to block thyroid hormone production in the hyperthyroid stage, and then thyroid hormone medication when they enter the hypothyroid stage.
According to CDC, 12,000 men and 35,000 women are diagnosed with thyroid cancer each year. Thankfully, the majority of cases are always curable. Thyroid cancer is often genetic and can also be caused by head and neck exposure to radiation. It does not usually cause any symptoms but can lead to neck pain in severe cases. Most people don’t even know they have thyroid cancer until a lump (or nodule) on their neck is found during a routine exam. Doctors will suggest an ultrasound and a biopsy to determine if the lump is cancerous. For treatment, the thyroid is partially, or fully removed in surgery along with the lymph glands in some cases. Occasionally, radioactive iodine may also be used post-operation to destroy thyroid cells. After surgery, patients are prescribed thyroid hormone medication for life as the body is no longer able to produce any, or enough thyroid hormones.
How do I Keep my Thyroid Healthy?
One of the best ways to take care of your thyroid is to take care of your overall health through eating well, exercising, and managing your stress. Consult your physician if you notice any enlargements or bumps at the base of your neck, or if you are experiencing any unusual symptoms. If you are female, older than 60, have a family history of thyroid conditions, and/or have an autoimmune disease such as type one diabetes, ensure your family doctor checks your thyroid regularly.
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