More than one in ten Americans will develop thyroid disease in their lifetimes. While symptoms of thyroid dysfunction can be mild initially, the condition can rapidly deteriorate if left untreated. As a result, it is crucial to recognize the signs of thyroid disease and know when to see an endocrinologist at Associated Endocrinologists for diagnosis and treatment.
What is Thyroid Disease?
If you have thyroid disease, your thyroid produces levels of T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) hormones outside the normal healthy range. There are two primary classifications of thyroid disease: hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.
In patients with hyperthyroidism, the thyroid (in conjunction with the pituitary gland) produces hormones at an elevated rate. This causes the body’s metabolism to speed up and leads to various uncomfortable symptoms, such as:
- Weight loss
- Elevated body temperature
- Increased perspiration
- Sleep disruptions
- High heart rate, particularly at night
- Severe hair loss
Hyperthyroidism affects as much as 1.3% of the U.S. population and is more common in women. The vast majority (accounting for nearly three-quarters of all hyperthyroidism cases) is caused by an autoimmune condition called Graves’ disease.
Patients may also experience hypothyroidism. With hypothyroidism, the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone, which leads to the slowing of bodily systems and processes. This causes symptoms that contrast with those of hyperthyroidism, including:
- Weight gain
- Feeling persistently cold
- Feeling tired upon waking
- An unusual urge to nap
- Difficulty staying awake
- Hair loss
- Dry skin
Around 4.3% of Americans have an underactive thyroid, though many individuals in the early stages of hypothyroidism go undiagnosed and untreated. The most common cause of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Thyroid Disease Complications
The American Thyroid Association estimates that up to 60% of people with thyroid conditions are not diagnosed or treated. This is likely due to the progressive nature of the disease. Since many thyroid disease symptoms are relatively common individually, those in the early stages of thyroid disease may not seek treatment until more serious complications develop.
Some potential complications of untreated thyroid disease include:
Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to vision problems, such as blurred vision, bulging eyes, and permanent vision loss.
Hyperthyroidism can lead to an elevated resting heart rate, arrhythmia, and heart failure. Similarly, untreated hypothyroidism can lead to elevated cholesterol levels and heart disease.
A thyroid storm, also called a thyrotoxic crisis, is a severe complication that can arise in patients with untreated hyperthyroidism. These life-threatening episodes lead to a sudden worsening of typical hyperthyroidism symptoms, such as high fever, severely elevated (and often irregular) heartbeat, elevated blood pressure, and vomiting.
This complication can cause a heart attack even with treatment and often results in death; however, early treatment improves prognosis.
Untreated hypothyroidism can cause a life-threatening condition called a myxedema crisis, which occurs when the body can no longer manage severe hypothyroidism.
Like a thyroid storm, a myxedema crisis leads to the sudden worsening of typical hypothyroidism symptoms, such as hypothermia, respiratory depression, shock, seizures, and coma. These symptoms lead to death in as many as 60% of patients.
To prevent these potentially-deadly and life-altering complications, you must see a doctor as soon as you develop symptoms. Delayed treatment can significantly increase the chances of experiencing a severe complication.
How Endocrinologists Treat Thyroid Disease
The first step in treating thyroid disease is to diagnose the thyroid patient. To determine if you have thyroid disease, your endocrinologist will perform an initial physical screening to determine if you show the physical signs of a thyroid disorder.
If you show signs of thyroid disease during this examination, your doctor will order blood tests. Some common thyroid-related blood tests include thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) levels, total T3 and T4, free T3 and T4, and reverse T3 tests.
If your doctor finds thyroid nodules or lumps during an ultrasound, they may also perform a fine needle aspiration biopsy to evaluate your thyroid for cancer.
Once you are diagnosed, your doctor will begin your treatment plan. If you are diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, you will likely be prescribed beta blockers to slow your heart rate.
You may be prescribed an antithyroid drug, such as methimazole, to reduce the production of thyroid hormone. If your condition is severe, your doctor may recommend radioactive iodine treatment, which destroys the thyroid’s ability to produce thyroid hormone. However, you’ll need to take synthetic thyroid hormones to maintain normal metabolic function.
If you are diagnosed with hypothyroidism, you will likely be prescribed synthetic thyroid hormones, such as levo-T, levoxyl, novothyrox, and unithroid, to elevate your hormone levels.
Thyroid Disease Treatment at Associated Endocrinologists
Prompt treatment is vital in effectively managing thyroid disease, so if you believe you may be suffering from thyroid dysfunction, it is important to see a thyroid specialist at Associated Endocrinologists immediately.
Associated Endocrinologists has received awards from several prominent endocrine groups, such as the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, for our cutting-edge and effective thyroid treatments. We offer the latest in thyroid treatments, such as nuclear medicine, thyroid radiofrequency ablation, and fine-needle aspiration biopsy, so you can rest assured that you will receive the best possible treatment for your disorder.
If you believe your thyroid may be dysfunctional, call Associated Endocrinologists today at (248) 940-3150 to schedule an initial consultation.