Thyroid Disease

What is thyroid disease?

Austin Family Medicine thyroid diagramThe thyroid gland is located in the lower portion of the neck, and it is shaped like a butterfly.  It is responsible for your basal metabolic rate which means it regulates the speed of every cell in the body.  Thyroid hormones tell you heart to beat, lungs to breathe, brain to function, nails and hair to grow, skin to build, and all other systems to function.  Therefore, it is safe to say that thyroid hormones are a vital part of the human body, and we treat thyroid disorders aggressively at Austin Family Medicine Associates.  We use a strict, narrow window before treating thyroid disorders with a variety of medicines, including Synthroid and Armour thyroid.

What are the symptoms of low thyroid or hypothyroidism?

When the thyroid gland is not producing enough thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), the body becomes sluggish and people feel

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Thin, Brittle Nails
  • Joint or Muscle Aches
  • Weight Gain
  • Heavy or Irregular Periods
  • Increased Sensitivity to Cold
  • Worsened Cholesterol Levels

What are the symptoms of high thyroid or hyperthyroidism?

When the thyroid gland is producing too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), the body goes into overdrive, causing:

  • Fast Heart Rate
  • Dry Skin
  • Racing Thoughts
  • Diarrhea
  • Hand Tremor
  • Nervousness / Anxiety
  • Increased Sensitivity to Heat
  • Bulging Eyes

How do I get evaluated for thyroid problems?

Thyroid problems are easily detected with a simple blood test that will involve Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH), Thyroxine (T4), and Triiodothyronine (T3) levels.  The thyroid tests are then analyzed by your healthcare provider in order to determine whether you are in the normal ranges or outside of the range.  Many patients get confused by the TSH level.  An elevated TSH level means you have low thyroid (hypothyroidism), and a decreased TSH level means that you have high thyroid (hyperthyroidism).  TSH is released by your brain, and it is a hormone that stimulates the thyroid gland.  If the TSH level begins to rise, this means that the brain is sensing low thyroid levels, and it is trying to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone.  An appropriate metaphor is a rider spurring their horse.  If the horse is going to slow, the amount of spurring increases.

How do I get treated for low thyroid or hypothyroidism?

Treating hypothyroidism is simple and effective.  Elevated TSH levels mean you have low thyroid (contrary to what it may seem), and you will be placed on thyroid replacement hormone.  The most common medications are Synthroid (Levofloxacin) or Armour Thyroid.  Both medications contain actual thyroid hormones of Thyroxine (T4) and Triiodothyronine (T3) in different ratios.  Your healthcare provider will choose the right one for you.  After beginning therapy, it is important to regularly check your levels as your body demands can change over time.  If you get pregnant, it is extremely important to keep your TSH level in an even stricter, narrower range.

How do I get treated for high thyroid or hyperthyroidism?

Treating hyperthyroidism is more difficult.  It is important to identify the root cause of elevated thyroid levels as sometimes it can be due to cancer.  However, most of the time, it is due to Grave’s Disease which is a syndrome where the body is attacking itself.  The body creates antibodies (designed to fight infections) to its own Thyroid Stimulating Hormone Receptors, and these antibodies sit on the thyroid gland’s receptors constantly activating it.  The incessant activation leads to an enlarging thyroid gland (goiter) and overproduction of T4 and T3.  These elevated thyroid levels cause all of the symptoms listed above.

After your diagnosis has been established, you will then begin therapy with either Methimazole or Propylthiouracil which blocks the thyroid gland from making thyroid hormones (T4).  You may also begin a blood pressure medicine like propranolol.  This medications blocks some of the effects of elevated thyroid hormones since the other medications take time to lower levels.  Your healthcare provider may say that you need surgery or radiation to destroy the thyroid gland, especially if it is enlarging into a goiter.