The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped, endocrine ductless gland located at the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. The function of the thyroid gland is to produce thyroid hormones that are secreted into the blood and then transferred to different parts of the body.
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Thyroid hormones help the body in staying warm, utilisation of energy and in the normal functioning of the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs. A thyroid that works properly will maintain the right amount of hormones needed to keep the metabolism of the body working at a satisfactory rate. The pituitary gland regulates and controls the level of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream.
A goitre is an abnormal enlargement of the thyroid gland. Most cases are classified as ‘ simple ‘ goitres that do not involve inflammation or any harm to thyroid function and do not produce any symptoms. Some people experience a little swelling. Others may have significant swelling that restricts the trachea and causes problems with breathing. The diagnosis of goitre is usually made when a thyroid enlargement is detected at the time of physical examination. The presence of goitre, however, indicates that the thyroid gland is abnormal. It is therefore important to determine the cause. Thyroid function tests help in determining the activity of thyroid glands, whether it is underactive or overactive.
Conditions causing Goitre
Goitre can be caused by a number of different conditions:
Iodine deficiency is a problem affecting approximately 100 million people around the world. In order to produce thyroid hormones, the thyroid gland needs iodine to regulate metabolism. If the gland does not have enough iodine, it can not produce enough thyroid hormone. In the brain, the pituitary gland, therefore, senses that the significantly low levels of the thyroid hormone and transmits a signal to the thyroid. The thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH secreted by the pituitary gland stimulates the thyroid gland to produce thyroid hormone and to increase in size. In a number of drugs and some cough syrups, excessive iodine may cause the thyroid to produce either too much or too little hormone in some individuals. Luckily, by increasing the consumption of iodine, most cases can be treated.
Graves’ disease and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are a more common cause of goitre formation in developed countries.
Grave’s disease is an immune system disorder which leads to the overproduction of the thyroid hormones. Grave’s disease is a common cause resulting in hyperthyroidism despite there being a number of disorders which may lead to it.
Thyroid hormones can affect different body systems as a result, the symptoms of Grave’s disease could vary. The main treatment advised is the reduction in the amount of thyroid hormones produced by the body and severity of signs and symptoms.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder which affects the thyroid gland. The antibodies synthesized by the immune system target the thyroid cells considering them foreign particles to the body; it inaccurately treats it as fighting agents thus damaging cells leading to cell death. Usually, the disease leads to a decline in the production of hormones.
Another cause of goitre is hyperthyroidism or a hyperactive thyroid gland. It produces too much thyroid hormone. This usually results from the disease of Graves, an autoimmune disorder in which the immunity of the body turns on itself and attacks the thyroid gland, causing it to swell.
There are many other less common causes besides the common causes of a goitre. Some of these are caused by genetic defects, others are associated with thyroid injury or infection, and some are caused by tumours (cancer and benign tumours).
It is a very common form of cancer. However, a patient with thyroid cancer has a fairly high chance of survival compared to other forms of cancer. Typically, thyroid cancer does not cause any early symptoms or signs of the disease. As cancer grows, it can cause a mass/lump which can be sensed/felt through the neck’s skin which changes your voice, along with increased heaviness, trouble swallowing, pain in the neck and swollen neck lymph nodes.
There are four kinds of thyroid cancers, namely:
- Papillary thyroid cancer
Papillary thyroid cancer, thyroid cancer’s most common form, originates from follicular cells. These cells generate and store thyroid hormones. Papillary thyroid cancer may befall at any age but typically tends to affect people between the ages of 30 and 50.
- Follicular thyroid cancer
This cancer also develops from thyroid follicular cells typically affecting people over 50 years of age. Hurthle cell cancer is an uncommon and rare follicular thyroid cancer type potentially more severe.
- Medullary cancer
In thyroid cells called C cells producing hormone calcitonin, medullary thyroid cancer begins. At an age early on, high calcitonin levels in the blood may indicate cancer of the medullary thyroid. While this genetic connection is rare, some genetic syndromes enhance the risk of medullary thyroid cancer.
- Anaplastic thyroid cancer
Anaplastic thyroid cancer is a rare type of cancer, which develops quickly and is very hard to treat.
Also Check: MCQs on Thyroid Gland
Hypothyroidism is a common disorder, also known as underactive thyroid disease. The thyroid gland does not contain enough thyroid hormone with hypothyroidism. The thyroid regulates how cells in your body use food energy, through a process called metabolism. Your metabolism affects the temperature of your body, your heartbeat, and how well you burn calories, among other things. If your thyroid hormone is not adequate, the body will slow down.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. “Thyroiditis” is the thyroid gland’s inflammation. Thyroiditis of Hashimoto is an autoimmune disorder. Your body produces antibodies with Hashimoto that attacks and destroys the thyroid gland. Thyroid hormone replacement is a possible treatment. Normal hypothyroidism treatment involves the routine use of levothyroxine (Levo-T, Synthroid, others) synthetic thyroid hormone. The oral medication restores sufficient levels of hormones and reverses signs and symptoms. Extremely low thyroid hormone levels can lead to a life-threatening condition called myxedema. A person with myxedema can lose consciousness or go into a coma.
This condition is caused by the excessive production of a hormone called thyroxine. The symptoms become more obvious as the degree of hyperthyroidism increases. The symptoms usually are related to an increase in the metabolic rate of the body. Some of the hyperthyroidism symptoms include nervousness, irritability, increased suddenness, heart racing, handshaking, anxiety, sleeping difficulties, skin thinning, fine brittle hair, and muscle weakness — especially in the upper arms and thighs, intolerance to heat, and frequent bowel movements. Hyperthyroidism can speed up the metabolism of your body, resulting in unintended weight loss and rapid or irregular heartbeat
A few common causes of hyperthyroidism are:
- Graves’ Disease
- Excessive intake of thyroid hormones
- Toxic multinodular goitre (TMNG) and Functioning adenoma
- Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland)
- Abnormal secretion of TSH
- Excessive intake of iodine
Many therapies for hyperthyroidism are available. Doctors are using anti-thyroid and radioactive iodine drugs to suppress thyroid hormone development. Treatment for hyperthyroidism sometimes involves surgery to remove your thyroid gland entirely or partly.
Thyroid nodules are lumps filled with solid or fluid that develop within your thyroid. Thyroid nodules are most commonly found on health care providers’ routine check-ups or on the basis of x-ray studies obtained for other reasons. Large nodules or a multinodular goitre — a thyroid gland enlargement containing multiple distinct nodules — may interfere with swallowing or breathing. Treatment depends on the type of nodule you have. Treatments include:
If your nodule isn’t cancerous, your doctor might just decide to look at your condition. You are going to get regular physical tests, blood tests, and maybe ultrasound tests for thyroid. You may not need further treatment if your nodule does not change.
Surgery may be required to remove the nodules. Treatment depends on the type of nodule you have. Surgery may be necessary to take out nodules that may be cancerous or large nodules that can cause problems in breathing or swallowing.
If the nodules are making too much thyroid hormone, this type of treatment is helpful. Radioiodine causes nodules to shrink and lower thyroid hormone levels.
The thyroid gland is a vital hormone gland performing a critical role in the growth, metabolism and development of the body. The health of the thyroid gland, therefore, needs to be under check and maintained. Explore more on thyroid and other interesting topics at BYJU’S.
Frequently Asked Questions on Thyroid problems
What are some common thyroid problems?
Some of the common thyroid problems are Goitre, Grave’s disease, Hypothyroidism, Hyperthyroidism, Thyroid nodules etc.
What organs are affected by thyroid?
The thyroid hormone has an affect on almost every organ in the body even the heart, bones, Central nervous system, gastro intestinal tract, autonomic nervous system, metabolism etc.