The thyroid gland is one of the most important structures in your body, but one about which many people know very little. Located at the base of the neck, it gets its name from the Greek word meaning â€œshieldâ€ from the shape of the cartilage that protects it. The thyroid controls a host of important bodily functions including the production of proteins, determining the rate at which the body uses energy, and regulating the bodyâ€™s sensitivity to hormones produced by other glands. When problems arise that cause the thyroid to malfunction, the effects can be dramatic and widespread.
The thyroid produces two main hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, that are responsible for regulating the bodyâ€™s metabolic rate. This means these hormones also have a direct effect on the growth and regulation of many other bodily systems. If the thyroid gland does not produce enough of these hormones, the result is a condition called hypothyroidism. Excess production of thyroid hormones leads to a condition called hyperthyroidism.
In the United States, hypothyroidism most often is caused by congenital thyroid abnormalities, some autoimmune disorders, or surgical removal of the thyroid to treat hyperthyroidism or thyroid cancer. In poorer countries, iodine deficiency is a significant cause of hypothyroidism. The most common symptoms of hypothyroidism include weight gain, fatigue, heightened sensitivity to cold, abnormally slow heartbeat (or bradycardia), and hair loss. Hormone replacement therapy is the treatment of choice for hypothyroidism. It usually takes a few weeks for symptoms to abate, and therapy must continue for the remainder of the patientâ€™s life.
Hyperthyroidism, although rarer than hypothyroidism (which is about 5 times as common), is potentially a much more serious condition. Autoimmune disorders, particularly Graveâ€™s disease, are the most common causes of hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include rapid heartbeat (tachycardia), heart palpitations, anxiety, excess perspiration, diarrhea, weight loss, muscle weakness, increased appetite, and heightened sensitivity to heat. A classic visual symptom of hyperthyroidism is noticeably protruding eyes. An unseen but much more dire condition is the potential for developing a toxic growth, or goiter, on the thyroid, which often can lead to thyroid cancer.
Treatment for Hyperthyroidism
Pharmaceutical therapy is often the first course of treatment for hyperthyroidism. Physicians typically prescribe beta-blockers to reduce symptoms such as tachycardia and anxiety. Anti-thyroid drugs such as methimazole are also used to mitigate the overproduction of thyroid hormones. These treatments can take several months to show results and can have serious side effects. A particularly worrisome side effect is a lowered white blood cell count, which can compromise the bodyâ€™s ability to fight off infection. Instead of drug therapy, some patients choose to undergo treatment with radioactive iodine, which is used to destroy specific parts of the thyroid.
In some cases, the best or only course of action is to remove the thyroid surgically, a procedure called a thyroidectomy. This typically is the case when thyroid cancer is present, and in cases of extreme hyperthyroidism where dug or radiation therapy is ineffective. Although the surgery is relatively common, it entails several potential complications that include a change in voice that may be permanent, lowered levels of bodily calcium, and the need for lifelong thyroid hormone replacement.
If you have been diagnosed with hyperthyroidism and are considering surgical options, it is extremely important to consult a surgeon who has experience in performing thyroidecomies. One of the leading practitioners of minimally invasive surgical techniques for thyroidectomy is Dr. Christian Birkedal, a surgeon based in Daytona Beach, Florida. Dr. Birkedal specializes in laparoscopic surgery that involves only a couple of tiny incisions, resulting in less discomfort, fewer complications, and quicker postoperative recovery time. For more information about laparoscopic thyroidectomy, check out this brief video that discusses and describes the procedure.
Posted by: Axiom Health Care Marketing