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Thyroid Conditions Involving Hormone Production

Having a thyroid gland that secretes too much or too little thyroid hormone is not an uncommon or insignificant problem. It often goes undiagnosed, until or unless TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) or other thyroid indicator is included on a complete blood panel. (TSH is the pituitary hormone that controls thyroid function and that usually causes thyroid production abnormalities by, itself, being too high or too low.)

Feeling tired and sleepy during the day, even when getting eight to 10 hours of sleep per night, is the most common manifestation of low thyroid function.

Hypothyroidism. Underactive thyroid is the most common endocrine-gland condition for which patients seek care. Symptoms include:

  • fatigue or depression;
  • muscle aches and pains;
  • weight gain or difficulty losing weight;
  • chills;
  • slowed thinking;
  • high cholesterol that does not respond to diet and exercise, or even cholesterol lowering drugs;
  • heavier, more frequent and painful menstrual periods
  • severe or long-term constipation;
  • brittle, course, dry hair that falls out easily;
  • and thick, dry, scaly skin.

Doctors treat this condition in a straightforward manner by prescribing thyroid-hormone supplements. This hormone therapy, though, must be carefully monitored for blood levels and effects.

Hyperthyroidism. Overactive thyroid is also a prevalent problem. It may have a number of different causes, including a defective thyroid, a partial thyroid or a pituitary disorder.  Symptoms include:

  • jitters, shaking;
  • irritability;
  • rapid or irregular heartbeat;
  • unexplained weight loss;
  • anxiety or panic attacks;
  • unusually low cholesterol;
  • hot flashes;
  • shorter, lighter or infrequent menstruation;
  • diarrhea or irritable bowel syndrome;
  • severe hair loss;
  • thin, fragile skin;
  • and eye symptoms.

Treatment is for low thyroid function is usually with:

  • radioactive iodine. This commonly used therapy can permanently correct thyroid overactivity. Tissue in the thyroid gland absorbs iodine which, when administered orally in radioactive form, then kills the thyroid cells that absorb it. The objective is to shrink the thyroid enough but not too much, to return blood thyroid hormones levels to normal, eliminating over production but not below levels of normal function.
  • anti-thyroid drugs. These medications prevent the thyroid from secreting hormones by interfering with the gland’s ability to make them. Other drugs (primarily beta blockers) block the action of the hormone, to control such symptoms as heart palpitations.
  • surgery. For this less-common approach to low thyroid function, Virtua’s endocrinology service refers patients to a collaborating Virtua endocrine surgeon (a general surgeon subspecializing in surgery of the endocrine glands). Operations to remove all or part of one of the lobes of the gland provide another type of long-term cure for the disease. This approach is usually for patients who can’t or don’t want to use iodine or drug treatment, or who have failed such treatment or relapsed after it or who have significantly enlarged thyroid gland. (Thyroid enlargements that are big enough to be visible or obvious cosmetically are called goiters.) Depending on the patient’s condition, the hospital can often offer thyroid reduction surgery as a same-day or outpatient procedure.

Ongoing care for thyroid conditions involving hormone production must include regular blood tests to monitor thyroid function.

To schedule an appointment with a physician, call 1-888-847-8823.

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