Time to Think about Thyroids

You or someone you know might have a thyroid problem. With an estimated 59 million Americans affected, thyroid disease is much more common than most people think. A problematic thyroid, when left undiagnosed, can dramatically increase the risk of heart disease, mood changes, sexual dysfunction and infertility. Dr. David Oliver, DO, an osteopathic doctor from Ocala, Florida details the symptoms associated with thyroid disease, so you can know the signs and get the immediate treatment you need.

“The thyroid, a butterfly-shaped gland located on the front of the neck, produces thyroid hormones which regulate the body’s metabolism,” explains Dr. Oliver. “There are two common conditions associated with thyroid diseases: hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid disease), which speeds up the metabolism when the thyroid glands produce excessive amounts of thyroid hormones; and hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid disease), which slows down the metabolism, when the thyroid hormones fall below normal in the bloodstream,” He says. “In both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, the thyroid can become larger than normal, creating a lump under the skin, called a goiter.”

Common Symptoms

According to Dr. Oliver, there are some common symptoms associated with each condition:

Hyperthyroidism Symptoms

  • Nervousness, irritability
  • Increased perspiration, intolerance to heat, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, a fast heartbeat
  • Irregular menstrual periods and muscle weakness
  • Weight loss, even when eating more than usual
  • Eyes that look irritated or like they’re staring. Sometimes the tissues around the eyes become inflamed and swollen, and the eyes appear to bulge out.
  • Fuzzy thinking, body pain, fatigue and slow reflexes
  • Constipation and fluid retention
  • Low blood pressure

Hypothyroidism Symptoms

  • Depression
  • Sluggishness and  muscle weakness
  • Weight gain, even when not eating more or exercising less than usual
  • Dry or scaly skin
  • Hair loss
  • Poor memory and difficulty concentrating.

Diagnosis and Treatment

“Autoimmune thyroid diseases are more common in young and middle-aged women,” says Dr. Oliver. “And, unfortunately, most times, these diseases go undiagnosed.” To diagnose a thyroid disease Dr. Oliver will perform a physical examination, review a patient’s symptoms, and take blood tests to find out if the thyroid hormones in the blood stream are too high or too low.

“Varying treatments are available for thyroid disease, depending on the severity of symptoms,” He says. Hypothyroidism is usually treated with thyroid hormone replacement pills, which can restore normal levels of thyroid hormones in the blood. “This particular treatment is relatively simple, but it requires doctor visits once or twice a year for an examination, blood tests, and medication adjustments,” Dr. Oliver points out.

For hyperthyroidism, there are anti-thyroid medications, which block the thyroid’s production of thyroid hormones. “Most people will need to take medications for months or years to keep their condition under control,” He explains. There are also more permanent treatments such as radioactive iodine which can be taken in capsules or mixed with a glass of water. Another permanent treatment is a thyroidectomy, a surgical procedure to remove most of the thyroid gland. “There are risks involved with both treatments,” warns Dr. Oliver. “Surgical removal of all or part of the thyroid, or radioactive iodine treatment to the thyroid, typically results in an underactive thyroid that will need to be treated with thyroid hormone replacement tablets.”

Risk Factors

“People who smoke, are pregnant, over consume soy food, or have been exposed to radiation or highly stressful events are highly at risk for developing thyroid disease,” says Dr. Oliver. Family history is also a determining factor. “I always tell my patients to look at their family history and note past discussions of goiters or glandular problems,” He says.

So, what should you take away about thyroid disease? “Pay attention to your body. If there is any significant changes in weight or lingering emotional status, seek medical treatment; diagnosis is always the first step to getting the proper treatment for thyroid disease,” concludes Dr. Oliver.

Preventive medicine is just one aspect of care osteopathic physicians provide. DOs are fully licensed to prescribe medicine and practice in all specialty areas, including surgery. DOs are trained to consider the health of the whole person and use their hands to help diagnose and treat their patients.