We have witnessed an epidemic of thyroid problems over the last years. Women are especially exposed to thyroid illnesses, as much as five to eight times more frequent than men. One in every 8 women will have problems with the thyroid and it is estimated that about 60 percent of diseases still remain undiscovered. Even if it’s a common excuse for weight gain, we have to admit that the increase of thyroid illnesses has become a serious medical issue and that we lack knowledge about it. Because of this, patients often unknowingly fight with symptoms, which are connected to undetected disturbances in the viability of the thyroid, and find themselves left alone with the medications when the symptoms are detected.
Most of the thyroid diseases have their basis. If you find and abolish them, you will live a perfectly normal life.
WHAT KIND OF DISEASES DO WE KNOW?
We can roughly separate the thyroid problems in 3 areas:
- Functional disruptions
- Abnormal nodules (goitre)
Functional disruptions are the most common and include more reasons for under- or overworked thyroid, this is why we will firstly look at what are nodules and how can cancer damage the thyroid and also what does that mean for you. The diseases are of course intertwined, so a goitre can be cause by cancer or by functional disruptions of the thyroid.
ABNORMAL THYROID NODULES (GOITRE)
Thyroid nodules defects are abnormal clods or enlargements in the thyroid tissue. Because of the thyroid being positioned in the neck, directly under the Adam’s apple, we can sometimes see the defects with our bare eye and that’s what we call a goitre.
90% of goitres in the world are consequences of a lack of iodine, which is again very rare in our area, because we have enough iodine in our diet. The frequency of goitre has drastically decreased since the use of iodine salt.
Not all nodules cause visible goitres. They can be smaller knots in the thyroid tissue. There can be a single nodule or more of them. They can be enlarged inside the thyroid or on it. There have also been cases of diffused enlargement or the enlargement of the whole thyroid.
Even the sizes differ. Some are not visible and can only be detected with palpitation (touching), some are visible with the bear eye and do not cause problems, meanwhile some growths can be very big, pressing on surrounding tissues and with that causing different symptoms, not usual for thyroid sicknesses.
CAUSES OF THYROID NODULES
There are several causes for thyroid nodules, yet not all have already been found. Some include:
- Lack of iodine,
- intake of goitrogens,
- medical side effects,
- hashimoto thyroiditis,
- sickness of the hypophysis,
- graves’ disease,
- thyroid inflammation,
- thyroid cancer,
- benign thyroid tumour,
- insensitivity to thyroid hormones.
SYMPTOMS OF THYROID NODULES
Nodules can cause a lot of different symptoms. Firstly, the symptoms will be from the diseases that led to the nodules themselves. Often nodules also cause functional disruptions or an underworking thyroid. Most nodules do not introduce symptoms and you can carelessly live with them. But a large goitre can press on the surrounding tissues and with that lead to symptoms such as:
- Breathing problems,
- swallowing problems,
- neck pain.
DIAGNOSIS AND TREATMENT OF THYROID NODULES
Most nodules can be found at a medical examination by palpitation (touching the area). They can also be detected by ultrasound, CT scan or magnetic resonance. If nodules are discovered, they firstly review your thyroid hormones such as TSH, T4 and T3 in order to detect abnormalities in the production of thyroid hormones. Then follows biopsy where they collect a sample of your cells from the nodules with a needle, following analysis shows whether the nodules are cancer or benign.
A west majority of tumours are benign and do not require treatment. If the nodules are not altering, doctors usually do not treat them some however decide to operate them or give you medicine in the form of radioactive iodine which destroys cells in the nodules and therefore minimizes them.
When it comes to strumousness because of iodine shortage the treatment is obvious: you receive iodine food supplements. Food supplements of natural iodine in the form of brown algae are the most effective. A shortage of iodine causes irreversible changes in the thyroid gland, after about five years. Adding it will no longer help to reduce the goitre.
Goitrogens are substances that interfere with thyroid function by preventing the passage of iodine into the thyroid. They can be medicines, chemicals or food. Goitrogens in the diet are often in foods that we consider healthy, such as broccoli, kale, cauliflower, cabbage, millet and similar. Some patients with thyroid problems should therefore avoid such foods, while they are appropriate and healthy for the rest.
Thyroid cancer is not a common type of cancer and is usually diagnosed quickly, which is improving the treatment’s success rate. Although approximately 75% of population has nodules, less than 1% are malignant.
The chance of getting thyroid cancer is 3 times bigger for women compared to men. It is usually diagnosed between the ages 45 to 50.
There are 4 main types of thyroid cancer:
- papillary or mixed follicular thyroid cancer (approx. 80%)
- follicular thyroid cancer (approx. 15%)
- medullary thyroid cancer (approx. 3%)
- anaplastic thyroid cancer (approx. 2%)
The first two forms have a high probability of healing, and the treatment’s success rate is as much as 97%. Medullary and anaplastic thyroid cancer are more difficult and aggressive. Often, they are detected when the surrounding organs and present metastases have already been affected. The forecast in this case is much worse.
SYMPTHOMS OF THYROID CANCER
Oftentimes thyroid cancer does not cause symptoms and is therefore usually detected at a regular medical examination. The classic symptoms common for cancer and nodules include:
- Visible changes on the neck (nodules) are the most frequent,
- pain in the neck and sometimes in the ears,
- problems with swallowing,
- difficulty in breathing or wheezing,
- voice changes,
- frequent coughing, unrelated to colds.
To diagnose cancer, we must firstly gather cell biopsy and inspect it in a laboratory.
TREATMENT OF THYROID CANCER
This article is not intended for a wider education on treatment of thyroid cancer, so I will only mention the options that your doctor may choose:
- partial or complete surgical removal of the thyroid is the first step,
- therapy with radioactive iodine follows in the second phase to destroy possible thyroid cells remaining,
- if metastases are present, treatment can be extended to radiation and chemotherapy.
What happens after thyroid removal?
If your whole thyroid is abolished, your body can no longer produce thyroid hormones, therefore you will need to take pills permanently to replace them. Sometimes medicines are poorly accepted by some people, but know there are more options for replacing thyroid hormones. You will also need some time to determine your ideal dose. More about that in one of my future articles.
FUNCTIONAL THYROID ILLNESSES
Functional disorders only mean that the thyroid gland does not produce enough thyroid hormones or, even better, to have symptoms of a deficiency excessive production of thyroid hormones, as this can happen even at the normal levels of these hormones in the blood.
Functional disorders of thyroid function include:
- hypothyroidism or poor thyroid function,
- hyperthyroidism or excessive thyroid function
Approx. 10% of the population experiences functional thyroid illnesses. The causes of these disorders can be directly on the thyroid alone, which fails to produce enough thyroid hormones or at the brain level, where the hypothalamus through the thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH) dictates the functioning of the pituitary gland, which regulates thyroid function (TSH).
UNDERACTIVE THYROID (HYPOTHYROIDISM)
Underactive thyroid is the most common form of thyroid disorders and in fact all thyroid disorders that are not treated ultimately lead to decreased thyroid function (with rare exceptions).
Hypothyroidism related disorders:
- Hashimoto thyroiditis
- Ford’s thyroiditis
- acute thyroiditis,
- silent thyroiditis,
- postoperative hypothyroidism,
- postpartum thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid gland after pregnancy),
- iatrogenic hypothyroidism,
- insensitivity to thyroid hormones,
The symptoms of underactive thyroid or low thyroid are often unspecific because thyroid hormones affect all aspects (cells) of our body.
The prevailing symptoms are:
- muscle weakness,
- weak, slow pulse,
- slow thinking and bad memory,
- a slight increase in body weight,
- dry or thick skin,
- dry, thin hair,
- pale and swollen face,
- heavy and irregular periods,
- sensitivity to cold,
- enlarged thyroid (goitre)
EXCESSIVE THYRIOD ACTIVITY (HYPERTYROIDISM)
Underactive thyroid is largely discussed because it is a condition often leading to chronic modern problems associated with depression and obesity. Excessive thyroid function on the other hand is rarely mentioned, but it is in fact a more difficult and dangerous form of functional thyroid disorders.
Excessive thyroid activity includes the following diseases:
- thyroid storm
- graves’ disease
- toxic thyroid nodules (adenoma)
All of these forms are caused by excessive production of thyroid hormones and thyroid storm can be deadly.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may be mild or very strong, even fatal. They often include:
- irritability and restlessness,
- fatigue and muscular weakness,
- uncontrolled weight loss despite an increased appetite,
- shaking hands,
- an elevated or irregular pulse,
- excessive sweating and sensitivity to heat,
- sleeping problems,
- diarrhea or frequent faeces discharge,
- changed menstrual cycle,
- enlarged thyroid (goitre),
- bulging eyes and vision problems.
REASONS FOR INCORRECT THYROID FUNCTION
Factors influencing thyroid function are mainly lifestyle choices. The basis of thyroid diseases is often:
- disorders of the immune system or autoimmune diseases. The body forms antibodies to thyroid cells and starts to destroy them (stress and weak intestines are the main causes of autoimmune diseases),
- shortage of nutrients such as selenium, vitamin C, iron, iodine and zinc,
- stress is a huge factor influencing the connection between the brain and the thyroid
- low intake of nutrients and excessive physical exhaustion,
- lack of sleep.
More about these reasons and their influence on the thyroid in the following articles.
I HAVE THYRIOD PROBLEMS, WHAT SHOULD I DO?
We have made it to the end of this article, which despite its length cannot fully cover thus west theme. Unfortunately, there is no simple receipt to fix your problems. If you have serious problems, be sure to visit a doctor, but at the same time I recommend that you begin with changing your lifestyle. If you truly want to solve the problem you must dig deeper and find the underlying cause. A specialist in functional medicine can also help you (if you want help, contact me).
In any case, I recommend that you begin adapting to a healthy lifestyle:
- Make sure to eat quality and unprocessed food,
- have good sleep hygiene,
- avoid stress or at least control it,
- make sure your intestines are healthy,
- be regularly physically active,
- do not smoke or drink alcohol,
- have good social relations …
That way you will be healthier, happier and your thyroid will thank you for it.