Thyroid Illustration

What Is Thyroid Disease?

Thyroid problems have many origins but they only fall into two categories: underactive or overactive.

Underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism, means the thyroid is underperforming or something is interfering with the body’s ability to use thyroid hormones.

Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) means the thyroid is overproducing hormones.

Illustration - Thyroid And Disorders

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located at the base of the neck. It creates and secretes hormones that trigger chemical processes (metabolism) of nearly every cell in the body.1

Thyroid hormones also maintain Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR), help regulate temperature and influence appetite.1

What Are The Different Types Of Thyroid Disorders?

  • Hyperthyroidism
  • Hypothyroidism
  • Goiter, enlarged thyroid gland. Iodine deficiency is the leading cause of goiter in the world. The thyroid uses iodine to create hormones. The body cannot make iodine and must obtain it through diet.
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Thyroid nodules - lumps in the thyroid gland
  • Thyroiditis - swelling of the thyroid

Graves' Disease, a form of hyperthyroidism, and Hashimoto's thyroiditis, hypothyroidism, are the most common thyroid disorders. 2,3 They are both autoimmune diseases.

Image of At-Home Thyroid Test Kit

How Do I Know If I Have A Thyroid Problem?

Thyroid function tests analyze the gland's health using several indicators.

If you have a thyroid problem, you will probably have symptoms. However, warnings are very similar to imbalance of the sex hormones estrogen and testosterone.

Like other health issues, especially those related to hormones, one problem can start a cascade of progressive physiological harm. 

Hormones are proteins secreted by endocrine glands. The endocrine system directs the body and uses hormones to trasmit instructions to every part of the body on how, when and where to perform their job.  

What Are Male Symptoms Of Thyroid Disease?

Men may experience Erectile Dysfunction (ED),4 low libido4 and hair loss. Gynecomastia, the growth of breast tissue in men, can often be traced to estrogen dominance and low testosterone  in men with hyperthyroidism.5

What Are Signs Of Thyroid Imbalance In Women?

Women can have a particularly difficult time deciphering thyroid conditions because many of the signs mirror menopause and can reveal themselves during perimenopause.6Perimenopause occurs about 8-10 years before menopause, when the symptoms of declining sex hormones, mainly estrogen are noticeable. The average age of menopause in the US is 51.

Studies show an interrelation between estrogen imbalance and thyroid problems in women.7Hot flashes, low libido, weight gain, depression are a few overlapping signs of menopause and thyroid dysfunction. 4

Hot Flashes From Thyroid Disorder or Menopause?

The relationship between temperature modulation problems and thyroid dysfunction stem from disruption of negative feedback to the hypothalamus.1 The hypothalamus is a small gland located at the base of the brain near the pituitary gland.

Hot flashes in menopause are also thought to stem from interrupted signaling to the hypothalamus.7 Low estrogen tied to menopause may be the underlying condition or a thyroid disorder may be responsible.

 

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

Hyperthyrodism Symptoms

Weight gain

Weight loss

Difficulty concentrating

Anxiety and/or difficulty sleeping

Sexual dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction

Sensitivity to cold

Sensitivity to heat

Slow heart beat

Heart palpitations 

Depression

Depression

Fatigue

Hyperactivity and/or nervous energy

Diagram - Thyroid Feedback Circuit

Feedback Circuits And Homeostasis

The body maintains homeostasis through feedback circuits that trigger responses so that deviations from set points are restored. Negative feedback is the dominant regulatory tool but positive feedback serves a purpose as well. In healthy individuals, the positive feedback loop should be temporary.

Positive feedback pushes the body beyond its set point to carry out an essential function. Examples include flooding the body with oxytocin to stimulate contractions in women for childbirth and a surge in the hormones adrenaline and noradrenaline called the "fight or flight response" in reaction to acute stress.

How Is Thyroid Disease Treated?

Medications often stimulate negative feedback. An example is suppression therapy for thyroid dysfunction.

Thyroid medication is not indicated for transient thyroid dysfunction that may develop during pregnancy or related to temporary stress or an illness. Diagnostic testing is crucial to identify the true chronic thyroid disease.

One of the goals of Thyroid Replacement Therapy is to add T4 and/or T3 to the body to raise blood levels and provide negative feedback to the pituitary gland to slow or stop its production of TSH.

When Is Thyroid Surgery Needed?

In the case of thyroid cancer, nodules, goiter or other abnormalities, a partial or total thyroidectomy may be required. Not all goiters are malignant, but even a benign enlarged thyroid, may require surgery if it is disrupting breathing or is bothersome for other reasons.

Thyroid surgeries have a high success rate.8 Some cases may require thyroid replacement therapy after.

Why Do Thyroid Problems Cause Weight Problems?

The thyroid plays an important role in weight management because it regulates basal metabolism, the process in which the body uses calories to create energy. 

What Is BMR?

BMR is the amount of calories humans and other endothermic (heat generating) animals need to maintain life at resting state. BMR is measured in calories. 1 calorie = I unit of energy.

Increasing your BMR helps the body lose weight. Lowering it increases weight.1

BMR is not the same as metabolism. Metabolism refers to all chemical processes in the body that support life.  

Thyroid disorders that cause an abnormal BMR can have major negative impacts on the heart, liver, brain and temperature regulation.1

Are Thyroid Problems Common?

Everyone has the potential to develop a thyroid problem at some point in their life. Women are more susceptible than men and being 60 2,3 or older increases your risk.

  • Up to 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid illness.9
  • More than 12% of the entire population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime.9
  • Over 60% of people with thyroid issues are unaware of the problem.9
  • Women are 5-8 times more likely than men to have thyroid condition.9
  • One in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.9

On a positive note, most thyroid conditions are treatable with medication or diet/lifestyle changes.

The bottom line is that thyroid imbalance is very common and extremely complex.

Diagnostic tests and prevention are the safest ways to maintain your best health.

Learn more about Thyroid Function Tests.

References

1 Mullur R, Liu YY, Brent GA. Thyroid hormone regulation of metabolism. Physiol Rev. 2014;94(2):355-382. doi:10.1152/physrev.00030.2013

2 Hyperthyroidism | MedlinePlus. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/hyperthyroidism.html Published 2020. Accessed July 22, 2020.

3 Hypothyroidism| MedlinePlus. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/hypothyroidism.html Published 2020. Accessed July 20, 2020.

4 Gabrielson A, Sartor R, Hellstrom W. The Impact of Thyroid Disease on Sexual Dysfunction in Men and Women. Sex Med Rev. 2019;7(1):57-70. doi:10.1016/j.sxmr.2018.05.002

5 Gynecomastia | Endocrine Society. Hormone.org. https://www.hormone.org/diseases-and-conditions/gynecomastia. Published 2020. Accessed July 24, 2020.M

6 Santin AP, Furlanetto TW. Role of estrogen in thyroid function and growth regulation. J Thyroid Res. 2011;2011:875125. doi:10.4061/2011/875125

7 Dealing with Symptoms of Menopause Harvard Health Publishing www.health.harvard.edu/womens-health/dealing-with-the-symptoms-of-menopause Accessed July 23, 2020.

8 Thyroidectomy|Normal anatomy: MedlinePlus Medical Encyclopedia. Medlineplus.gov. https://medlineplus.gov/ency/presentations/100135_1.htm. Published 2020. Accessed July 24, 2020.

9 Prevalence and Impact of Thyroid Disease Thyroid.Org https://www.thyroid.org/media-main/press-room/. Accessed July 22, 2020.

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