What causes problems and disorders with the thyroid?

We have several glands throughout our body responsible for creating and releasing substances. An important gland is the thyroid gland. It is a small organ located in front of the neck around the windpipe, and makes hormones that help control many vital functions in our body.

As such, when there are issues with your thyroid, it can impact your whole body. Problems such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are issues that arise when your body makes too much and too little thyroid hormone respectively. Both are serious and require medical attention. Thomas Ho Surgery is one of the general surgeons in Singapore who performs thyroid surgery.

What do thyroid hormones do?

Thyroid hormones control metabolism. Metabolism is a process where food you consume is converted into energy. This energy is used by your body to keep many of your systems working correctly. Think of metabolism as a generator — it takes in raw energy to carry out tasks and do something bigger.

The thyroid controls metabolism with a few hormones, mainly thyroxine and triiodothyronine. These two hormones tell our cells how much energy to use. If the thyroid is working properly, it will maintain and achieve the right balance to keep your metabolism working at a normal rate. As hormones are used, the thyroid creates replacement.

All this is supervised by the pituitary gland, a gland located below your brain that monitors and controls the amount of thyroid hormones produced in your bloodstream. Every time there is a lack or excess of thyroid hormones in your body, the pituitary gland will adjust the amount with a thyroid stimulating hormone.

What is thyroid disease?

Thyroid disease is a medical condition that occurs when your thyroid is unable to make the right amount of hormones. There are two types of thyroid disease: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.

When the thyroid makes excessive thyroid hormone, your body uses up energy very quickly, resulting in hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism makes you feel easily tired, your heart beats faster and you lose weight for no reason. Other symptoms include:

  • Experiencing nervousness and irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Experiencing muscle weakness and tremors
  • Having irregular menstrual periods
  • Having eye problems

On the other hand, when the thyroid makes too little thyroid hormone, you gain weight and get cold easily. This is called hypothyroidism. Other symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Forgetfulness
  • Frequent and heavy menstrual periods
  • Dry and rough hair
  • Hair loss

What causes thyroid disease?

Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be caused by diseases that impact the way the thyroid gland works and produces hormones.

Conditions that cause hypothyroidism:

Thyroiditis

This condition is a swelling of the thyroid gland that causes your thyroid to lower the amount of hormones produced.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

This is an inherited autoimmune condition that causes the body’s cells to attack and damage the thyroid.

Postpartum thyroiditis

This occurs in 5-9% of women after childbirth and is usually temporary.

Iodine deficiency

Iodine is a mineral essential for the thyroid to produce hormones. Those with iodine deficiencies tend to suffer from thyroid problems.

A non-functioning thyroid gland

The thyroid gland can sometimes fail to work from birth, but this affects about 1 in 4000 newborns. If left untreated, the child could grow up with physical and mental issues. Thus, it’s important that all newborns undergo a blood test to check their thyroid function.

Conditions that cause hyperthyroidism:

Graves’ disease

This is a condition that occurs due to an overactive thyroid gland that produces too much hormone. Patients with this condition tend to that enlarged thyroid glands.

Nodules

Hyperthyroidism can be caused by overactive nodules within the thyroid.

Thyroiditis

Thyroiditis occurs when the thyroid releases stored hormones. This disorder can either be extremely painful or possess no symptoms at all. It can last for a few weeks or up to a few months.

Excessive iodine

Too much iodine causes the thyroid to make more thyroid hormones than it should. Excessive iodine can sometimes be found in cough syrup.

Who is at a higher risk of thyroid disease?

While thyroid disease can affect anyone, it can particularly develop as you get older. A woman is also five times more likely to get a thyroid condition compared to a man.

Other factors that put you at risk of developing thyroid disease include:

  • A family history of thyroid disease
  • A medical condition such as type 1 diabetes, lupus, pernicious anemia, rheumatoid arthritis, Turner syndrome, primary adrenal insufficiency and Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Being older than 60 years of age, especially for women
  • Having received treatment for a past thyroid condition

Specifically, those with type 1 disease have a higher chance of developing a thyroid disease. This is because type 1 diabetes is an autoimmune disorder — if you have one autoimmune disorder, you’re more likely to develop another one. Those with type 2 diabetes have a lower risk; but the risk is still there.

Regular testing for thyroid issues is recommended. The ideal frequency is immediately after the diabetes diagnosis and then once a year.

 

Thomas Ho Surgery
Mount Alvernia Hospital
820 Thomson Road #01-03 Medical Centre A
Singapore 574623
6261 8311