Thyroid disease is a medical condition that affects the function of the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located at the front of the neck and produces thyroid hormones that travel through the blood to help regulate many other organs, meaning that it is an endocrine organ. These hormones normally act in the body to regulate energy use, infant development, and childhood development.There are five general types of thyroid disease, each with their own symptoms. A person may have one or several different types at the same time. The five groups are:
In some types, such as subacute thyroiditis or postpartum thyroiditis, symptoms may go away after a few months and laboratory tests may return to normal. However most types of thyroid disease do not resolve on their own. Common hypothyroid symptoms include fatigue, low energy, weight gain, inability to tolerate the cold, slow heart rate, dry skin and constipation. Common hyperthyroid symptoms include irritability, anxiety, weight loss, fast heartbeat, inability to tolerate the heat, diarrhea, and enlargement of the thyroid.
Structural abnormalities may not produce symptoms, however some people may have hyperthyroid or hypothyroid symptoms related to the structural abnormality or notice swelling of the neck. Rarely goiters can cause compression of the airway, compression of the vessels in the neck, or difficulty swallowing. Tumors, often called thyroid nodules, can also have many different symptoms ranging from hyperthyroidism to hypothyroidism to swelling in the neck and compression of the structures in the neck.
Diagnosis starts with a history and physical examination. Screening for thyroid disease in patients without symptoms is a debated topic although commonly practiced in the United States. If dysfunction of the thyroid is suspected, laboratory tests can help support or rule out thyroid disease. Initial blood tests often include thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and free thyroxine (T4). Total and free triiodothyronine (T3) levels are less commonly used. If autoimmune disease of the thyroid is suspected, blood tests looking for Anti-thyroid autoantibodies can also be obtained. Procedures such as ultrasound, biopsy and a radioiodine scanning and uptake study may also be used to help with the diagnosis, particularly if a nodule is suspected.