Thyroid disease is a medical condition that affects the function of the thyroid gland (the endocrine organ found at the front of the neck that produces thyroid hormones). The symptoms of thyroid disease vary depending on the type. There are four general types: 1) hypothyroidism (low function) caused by not having enough thyroid hormones; 2) hyperthyroidism (high function) caused by having too much thyroid hormones; 3) structural abnormalities, most commonly an enlargement of the thyroid gland; and 4) tumors which can be benign or cancerous.
It is also possible to have abnormal thyroid function tests without any clinical symptoms. 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, weight loss, fast heartbeat, heat intolerance, diarrhea, and enlargement of the thyroid. In both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, there may be swelling of a part of the neck, which is also known as goiter.
Thyroid scintigraphy, in which the thyroid is imaged with the aid of radioactive iodine (usually iodine-123, which does not harm thyroid cells, or rarely, iodine-131), is performed in the nuclear medicine department of a hospital or clinic. Radioiodine collects in the thyroid gland before being excreted in the urine. While in the thyroid, the radioactive emissions can be detected by a camera, producing a rough image of the shape (a radioiodine scan) and tissue activity (a radioiodine uptake) of the thyroid gland.
Levothyroxine is a stereoisomer of thyroxine (T4) which is degraded much more slowly and can be administered once daily in patients with hypothyroidism. Natural thyroid hormone from pigs is sometimes also used, especially for people who cannot tolerate the synthetic version. Hyperthyroidism caused by Graves’ disease may be treated with the thioamide drugs propylthiouracil, carbimazole or methimazole, or rarely with Lugol’s solution. Additionally, hyperthyroidism and thyroid tumors may be treated with radioactive iodine. Ethanol injections for the treatment of recurrent thyroid cysts and metastatic thyroid cancer in lymph nodes can also be an alternative to surgery.