A butterfly-shaped gland at the base of the neck, the thyroid makes hormones that control your body’s metabolism.
Thyroid hormones have a narrow window of balance. If this gland produces too much or too little, your body may respond with a wide range of symptoms that are sometimes hard to trace back to the thyroid since they can be caused by many other problems, too.
As specialists in thyroid disorders, the team at Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates can help you make sense of the symptoms. We diagnose your thyroid disorder and work with you to develop an effective treatment plan. We’ve prepared this primer to help you recognize the signs of thyroid dysfunction.
The energy manager
The primary function of the thyroid is metabolism control. Hormones serve as your body’s chemical messengers, and the speed of your metabolism depends on the signals the hormones receive from the thyroid. When the thyroid produces too many or too few hormones, thyroid disease develops.
A range of conditions emerges when the thyroid malfunctions. We’ll outline a few of the most common, with symptoms below. While the presence or absence of symptoms can’t give you a conclusive diagnosis, they can be enough to indicate the need for medical advice to check for thyroid disorders.
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism
A thyroid problem tends to cause one of two conditions. When your thyroid underproduces hormones, it’s called hypothyroidism. Other problems cause hyperthyroidism, where too much thyroid hormone enters your system. The two conditions have some symptoms in common and others distinct to themselves.
When your body has too little thyroid production, you may experience:
- Weight gain
- Slow heart rate
- Dry skin, dry hair
- Joint pain
- Muscle weakness
Too much thyroid hormone brings on symptoms like:
- Weight loss
- Increased bowel movements
- Racing heartbeat
- Thin skin, brittle hair
- Muscle weakness
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are, themselves, sometimes symptoms of thyroid conditions.
The most common cause of hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, features symptoms of that condition as well as:
- Excessive sweating
- Goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland
- Bulging eyes
- Skin changes, usually on the lower legs and feet
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder that attacks the thyroid gland.
Another autoimmune disease, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, is the most frequent cause of hypothyroidism. It creates additional symptoms like:
- Pale skin
- Puffiness in the face
- Sensitivity to cold temperatures
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can strike anyone, but it tends to favor women in middle age.
Growths on the thyroid also tend to favor women, and they can be caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. The risk of nodules increases as you age. The presence of iodine in salt and other foods tends to keep thyroid nodules under control in the United States and other countries considered to be iodine sufficient.
Nodules are usually benign without causing symptoms, though sometimes they’re large enough to feel. In rare cases, they can cause swelling of the neck and problems with breathing and swallowing. Sometimes, nodules increase hormone production, resulting in hyperthyroidism.
Goiter is a non-cancerous enlargement of the thyroid, and it’s also limited by iodine consumption. Mild cases may be asymptomatic. If the enlargement is out of control, goiter causes similar problems to oversized nodules.
When you suspect you have symptoms that might be thyroid related, call Lawrence Otolaryngology Associates in Lawrence or Ottawa to schedule a consultation. Our head and neck specialists are standing by to help you, so book your visit now.