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The Small Gland with a Big Job

Your Thyroid and Disease that affect its function.

By Christopher Santora, MD –

Thyroid disease affects around 20 million people in the US, according to National Endocrine and Metabolic Diseases Information Service (NEMDIS). While that’s not a terribly large number relative to the population of the US, it still represents a condition that probably afflicts someone you know. All because of a little gland in the neck that can be easy to overlook.

This butterfly shaped gland produces two main hormones, T3 and T4, which help maintain the proper function of our bodies’ metabolism but also play a part in brain development, normal breathing, heart and nervous system functions, maintain a normal body temperature, muscle strength, skin dryness, menstrual cycles, weight, and cholesterol levels.

In short, it’s got a big job to do for such a small gland. If our thyroid is too active or not active enough, it can lead to some serious health problems. These conditions are referred to as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism, disorders that represent an imbalance in the production of thyroid hormones. More often than not, the imbalance in our hormone levels is caused by a genetic disorder or improper diet that leads to the dysfunction of the thyroid gland.

Hyperthyroidism
Some people with over active thyroid glands may notice weight loss, an increased or fast heartbeat, excessive sweat, a high sensitivity to warm temperatures, or moodiness, anxiety or nervousness, difficulty sleeping; others might not even notice a change. Hyperthyroidism, if left untreated, can lead to serious heart problems, bone problems, or a dangerous condition called thyroid storm.

All types of hyperthyroidism are due to an overproduction of thyroid hormones, but the condition can occur in several ways:
• Graves’ disease: The production of too much thyroid hormone is due to the body’s own immune system attacking thyroid tissue.  This is an autoimmune disease.
• Toxic adenomas: Nodules develop in the thyroid gland and begin to secrete thyroid hormones, upsetting the body’s chemical balance; some goiters may contain several of these nodules.
• Sub-acute thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid that causes the gland to “leak” excess hormones, resulting in temporary hyperthyroidism that generally lasts a few weeks but may persist for months
• Pituitary gland malfunctions or cancerous growths in the thyroid gland: Although rare, hyperthyroidism can also develop from these causes.

Initial treatment for hyperthyroidism usually is anti-thyroid medicine or radioactive iodine therapy. If you have substantial symptoms, your doctor may recommend you take anti-thyroid medicine first to help you feel better. Then you can decide whether to have radioactive iodine therapy.

Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, presents itself with different, but equally unpleasant, symptoms. Gaining weight, feeling tired, suffering regular constipation, depressed mood, impaired memory, hair loss in the outer region of eye brows and/or front portion of hairline, fine brittle hair, puffy face, and an inability to stand the cold are all common symptoms. Furthermore, if left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to increased cholesterol levels in the blood, an increased risk of heart attack or stroke, and complications during pregnancy.

Hypothyroidism stems from an underproduction of thyroid hormones. Since your body’s energy production requires certain amounts of thyroid hormones, a drop in hormone production leads to lower energy levels. Causes of hypothyroidism include:

• Hashimoto’s thyroiditis:
In this autoimmune disorder, the body attacks thyroid tissue. The tissue eventually dies and stops producing hormones.

• Removal of the thyroid gland:
The thyroid may have been surgically removed or chemically destroyed.

• Exposure to excessive amounts of iodide:
Cold and sinus medicines, the heart medicine amiodarone, or certain contrast dyes given before some X-rays may expose you to too much iodine. You may be at greater risk for developing hypothyroidism if you have had thyroid problems in the past.

• Lithium: This drug has also been implicated as a cause of hypothyroidism.

Following hypothyroid treatments are considered to be the most effective for hypothyroidism:

• Synthetic thyroid hormone (T4) (Synthroid):
Hypothyroid treatment with T4 is the most recommended by the doctors today. Synthroid is the preferred preparation for this. It usually gets you back to normal in a few weeks or months after you take the pill daily. You are required to take this pill daily.

• Combination therapy (T4 + T3) (Thyrolar):
If you are not responsive to T4, combination therapy with T4 and T3 will be prescribed by your doctor. It also comes in tablet form.

• Desiccated thyroid hormone (Armour):
This “natural thyroid hormone” is made from thyroid tissue of animals such as cows or pigs. This used to be the standard before synthetic hormones were made available. Although, doctors are not prescribing this often nowadays, you may respond better to this if the two options mentioned above are not working for you.

The thyroid gland is a complex, multifaceted system that is affected by a multitude of variables.  If you are suffering from a thyroid disorder make sure you are getting the best care possible to restore you to health and vitality.  At Personal Physician Care we offer a team of medical professionals, on site lab testing and thyroid ultrasound, as well as courtesy transportation.  To speak to one of our medical professionals contact us today at 561-498-5660 for a consultation.

Dr. Christopher A. Santora is Board Certified in Family Medicine and has been in practice since 2007. Dr. Santora completed his training in Family Medicine at the Brody School of Medicine at East Carolina University in North Carolina. During his Residency training he was recognized as an outstanding provider of Geriatric Medicine and awarded the Southeast Center of Excellence Award in Geriatric Medicine by Emory University /UAB in addition he holds a Master’s degree in Chemistry from Furman University, in Greenville SC, after completing his thesis on the synthesis and testing of a novel anti-tumor agent. Dr Santora comes to PPCare after 5 years of experience in multispecialty practice in Port Saint Lucy Florida and one year as a an Urgent Care Medical Director. Dr. Santora is an active member of the American Association of Family Physicians. Dr. Santora interests include Geriatric Medicine, Sports Medicine and Urgent Care Medicine.

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