How to Care for Patients with Thyroid Disease
January 18 2022
Types and Symptoms of Thyroid Disease Plus Care Tips
The thyroid has an important function and when it doesn’t work properly, it can impact the entire body. The thyroid releases a hormone that helps regulate your metabolism and the regulation of the thyroid is done by the pituitary gland, which is located in the center of the skull, below your brain. A person is diagnosed with thyroid disease when the thyroid does not function normally.
The Basics of Thyroid Disease
There are two categories of thyroid disease. The first is hyperthyroidism, when your body makes too much thyroid hormone. Some conditions that cause hyperthyroidism include:
- Graves’ Disease
- Excessive Iodine
Inversely, when the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone, this is hypothyroidism. Conditions that cause hypothyroidism are:
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis
- Postpartum Thyroiditis
- Iodine Deficiency
- A non-functioning thyroid gland
Thyroid disease can affect anyone, though it is more common in women, and it can be present at birth or develop as a person ages. It is very common, with an estimated 20 million Americans having some type of thyroid disorder. However, a person may be at higher risk of developing a thyroid disease if:
- There is a family history of thyroid disease
- Have a medical condition (such as pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis or Turner syndrome)
- Takes a medication high in iodine (amiodarone)
- Or have had treatment for a past thyroid condition or cancer
Symptoms of Thyroid Disease
Thyroid disease causes a variety of symptoms. Unfortunately, many of these symptoms are similar to signs of other medical conditions and stages of life. This is what makes it so difficult for a person to know if the symptoms are related to thyroid disease or something else.
Generally, the symptoms of thyroid disease can be divided into two groups–those related to hyperthyroidism and those related to hypothyroidism.
Symptoms of an overactive thyroid can include:
- Experiencing anxiety, irritability and nervousness
- Having difficulty sleeping
- Losing weight
- Having an enlarged thyroid gland or a goiter
- Having muscle weakness and tremors
- Experiencing irregular menstrual periods or having your cycle stop
- Feeling sensitive to heat
- Having vision problems or eye irritation
Symptoms of an underactive thyroid include:
- Fatigue (feeling tired)
- Weight gain
- Experiencing forgetfulness
- Having frequent and heavy menstrual periods
- Having dry and coarse hair
- Having a hoarse voice
- Experiencing an intolerance to cold temperatures
Hair loss is a common symptom of thyroid disease, particularly with hypothyroidism. In some very severe cases, if hypothyroidism hasn’t been diagnosed or treated, the patient’s risk of developing low serum sodium goes up, which can lead to seizures.
Diagnosing and Treating Thyroid Disease
While the symptoms of thyroid disease can be easily confused with those of other conditions, it is easily determined through three things: blood tests, imaging tests, and physical exams that are done by a care provider.
When it comes to treating thyroid disease, the goal is to return the patient’s thyroid hormone levels to normal (in most cases). This can be done in a variety of ways, though the type of thyroid condition dictates treatment.
There are several options to treat an overactive thyroid. These options include:
- Antithyroid drugs: These medications stop your thyroid from producing too much of the hormone that controls your metabolism.
- Radioactive iodine: This particular treatment damages the cells of the thyroid, preventing it from making high levels of the thyroid hormone.
- Beta blockers: These medications don’t change the amount of thyroid hormones but they do help control the symptoms of too much thyroid hormone.
- Surgery: This is a permanent form of treatment, however, once the thyroid is removed, the patient will need to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of their life. Surgery is not a recommended option for older thyroid patients due to increased risk.
For those that suffer from an underactive thyroid, the main treatment option is thyroid replacement medication. This medication is a synthetic way to add thyroid hormones back into your body, allowing you to control thyroid disease and live a normal life.
No matter the type of thyroid disease and the treatment, it is important to encourage the patient to take their medications on time and to follow the advice of their doctor.
Exercise and a Healthy Diet
While thyroid disease can be treated with medications and other treatments, it is still important that the patient continues to pursue a healthy lifestyle with exercise and eating nutritiously. It is key to understand that exercise does not drain your body’s thyroid hormones. Be sure to work with the patient’s care provider on a healthy exercise regimen for them.