The metabolic processes of the body are affected by the thyroid gland and the hormones it produces. The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system. Thyroid problems or disorders arise when the thyroid functions improperly, most commonly by producing either too little or too many thyroid hormones.
The overproduction of hormones by the thyroid is referred to as hyperthyroidism, while the production of too little hormones is hypothyroidism. The result is the body using energy either too quickly or too slowly, which can result in weight problems, difficulty regulating body temperature, and abnormal energy levels. Though some thyroid problems can be serious, most result in symptoms that are bothersome, but not life-threatening, and can be easily managed and treated.
Thyroid problems that can be caused by hyperthyroidism include Grave’s Disease, toxic adenomas, acute thyroiditis, and cancer of the thyroid gland. Cancer of the thyroid gland rarely develops, but can be more serious than other thyroid problems caused by an overactive thyroid. In most cases, inflammation, goiters, and other problems arise as a result of excess hormones that spill out into the body, but they rarely become cancerous.
In contrast to the thyroid problems caused by an overactive thyroid, an underactive thyroid may be the result of an autoimmune disorder, excessive exposure to iodide, or the surgical absence of the thyroid gland. Without the proper levels of thyroid hormones, a person can become lethargic due to a decrease in energy levels. In children, hypothyroidism can result in stunted growth and improper development.
Proper diagnosis and treatment of thyroid problems is essential to managing the symptoms and conditions they can cause. People with hyperthyroidism are typically treated with anti-thyroid medications, radioactive iodine, or surgery. On the contrary, people with hypothyroidism are typically treated with hormone replacement in the form of synthetic hormones.
Thyroid problems are diagnosed by blood tests, usually after certain symptoms that indicate a problem present. People with a history of thyroid problems are more prone to develop certain conditions and should have their hormone levels monitored regularly. Women are more likely than men to have thyroid problems, but with proper medical diagnosis and treatment, most conditions can be managed successfully.