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Thyroid Disorders

  • Definition

    The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the front of the neck, just over the windpipe. It produces iodine-containing hormones which regulate the rate at which body cells use energy and produce heat.

    The growth and development of all the body's tissues are dependent on the thyroid gland's proper functioning. If the thyroid gland is either overactive or underactive, it can create health problems.


    A person with too little secretion of thyroid hormone, called hypothyroidism, has general symptoms of slowing down - coldness, sluggishness, dry skin and scanty hair growth. In more serious cases, there is a characteristic thickening of the skin, a condition called myxedema.

    Sometimes a child is born without a thyroid gland. Recognizing and treating this defect early is extremely important to prevent serious problems with both physical and mental development.

    Fortunately, deficient production of thyroid hormone in either a child or an adult can be simply and effectively treated by replacing the normal amounts of this chemical the body requires.

    At the opposite extreme, the person with an overactive thyroid gland, called hyperthyroidism, may have an increase in body metabolism, which results in weight loss in spite of an increased appetite, excessive warmth and sweating, noticeably trembling hands, pounding of the heart and, in some cases, bulging eyes. Along with these symptoms, the thyroid gland may swell. This swelling is called a goiter.

    Medication is effective in slowing down an overactive thyroid. Because improvement may be only temporary, the physician may decide on more permanent measures, such as eradicating it with radioactive iodine or, less often, surgical removal of the overactive thyroid tissue.


    Measuring the blood levels of hormones secreted by the thyroid gland, and the pituitary gland which controls it, is the most common test for detecting thyroid gland disorders.

    Individuals with suspected thyroid problems need to be assessed by a physician. Information about the history of symptoms is obtained and the thyroid is examined for signs of increase in size or irregularity.

    To assess thyroid hormone levels and the function of the thyroid, several tests are performed that measure the amount of several thyroid and pituitary hormones in the blood. Other tests include radioactive iodine uptake and thyroid scanning.

    The nature and extent of tests performed is guided by the clinician's history and physical exam.


    Whatever your thyroid problem, chances are you take thyroid hormone to treat it.

    In hypothyroidism, thyroid hormone restores metabolism to normal. Most people with hyperthyroidism ultimately take thyroid hormone since the approach to treatment usually means shutting off the natural levels of hormone. Today's thyroid medicine of choice is levothyroxine sodium. This synthetic version of natural thyroid hormone costs only about 15 cents a day.


    What kind of thyroid disorder is it?

    What is the cause of the condition?

    How serious is the condition?

    What treatment do you recommend?

    Will medication be prescribed? What are the side effects?

    After treatment what can I expect?

    How soon will there be a decrease in symptoms?

    What is the prognosis?