Diseases of the Thyroid Gland

According to the Hormone Foundation, the thyroid gland has the shape of a butterfly and lies in front of the windpipe just above the collarbone. The thyroid gland secretes two hormones into the blood, and these hormones regulate the rate of your metabolism as well as the rate at which other organs in your body perform their tasks. There are certain disease states of the thyroid gland that can compromise its ability to control your body’s functions. You should consult a doctor who specializes in endocrinology for diagnosis and treatment of thyroid problems.

Graves’ Disease

Sometimes your thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormones than your body requires. This condition is called hyperthyroidism, says the National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service. Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disorder, is the most frequent cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States. If you have Graves’ disease, your immune system makes antibodies that bind to the cells of your thyroid gland. These bound antibodies stimulate the thyroid cells to make excessive amounts of thyroid hormones. The incidence of Graves’ disease in women is five to 10 times higher than it is in men. Symptoms include nervousness, trouble sleeping, hand tremors, rapid and irregular heartbeat, weight loss, diarrhea and enlarged thyroid gland (goiter). In addition, your eyes may bulge outward because of a condition called Graves’ ophthalmopathy. According to the National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service, treatment for this disease may include radioiodine therapy in which radioactive iodine-131 destroys thyroid cells, antithyroid drugs such as methimazole and propylthiouracil that inhibit thyroid hormone production, and thyroid surgery.

Hashimoto’s Disease

According to the Mayo Clinic, Hashimoto’s disease is the most frequent cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. Hypothyroidism means that your thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones to properly regulate your body functions. The disease involves an attack of your thyroid gland by your immune system, and the inflammation that this attack generates impairs the ability of the thyroid cells to produce sufficient quantities of thyroid hormones, says the Mayo Clinic. Symptoms progress gradually and may include fatigue and sluggishness, constipation, hoarse voice, muscle weakness, weight gain and depression. Your doctor will prescribe daily doses of the synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine to get thyroid hormone levels up to where they should be.

Thyroid Cancer

The American Cancer Society explains that only about 5 percent of thyroid nodules or bumps are cancerous and that two of every three cases of thyroid cancer occur in people 20 to 55 years of age. If you get thyroid cancer, you have a 97 percent chance of living at least five years after diagnosis.

Papillary and follicular carcinomas are the two most frequently occurring types of thyroid cancer. Papillary carcinoma accounts for 80 percent of all thyroid cancers, and it is a very slow-growing tumor. This cancer has a tendency to spread to the lymph nodes in the neck, but it can be effectively treated with surgery. Follicular carcinoma occurs in about 10 percent of cases, and it does not affect the lymph nodes. It may, however, spread to the lungs or bones via the bloodstream. The prognosis for your recovery from follicular carcinoma is very good.

About this Author

Robert DiPardo has been a pharmaceutical chemist for nearly 32 years, and he is a co-author on 70 scientific publications covering the cardiovascular, osteoarthritis, and other therapeutic areas. He retired from drug discovery research in 2009, and is in his second career as a writer of online content. DiPardo holds a Master of Science degree in organic chemistry from Yale University.