Thyroid is a gland in the neck overlying the windpipe that regulates the speed of metabolic processes by producing a hormone with the eponymous name thyroxin. Thyroid is an endocrine gland. The thyroid gland which resembles a butterfly, sits astride the trachea. Its secretion - thyroxin, a hormone that regulates the metabolic activity of the body. Too much thyroxin races the metabolism resulting in weight loss, temperature elevation, nervousness and irritability. On the other hand, too little thyroxin slows down the metabolism rate resulting in deep voice, weight gain and water retention. This can result in retardation in physical growth and mental development in children. Both conditions equally affect hair and skin growth, bowel function and menstrual flow.
The thyroid gland is often enlarged whether it is secreting too much hormone, too little or even when it is functioning normally. The thyroid is controlled by the pituitary gland, which secretes Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) in response to the amount of thyroxin in the blood. TSH increases the amount of thyroxin secreted by the thyroid and also causes the thyroid gland to grow.
Hyperthyroid Goiter : If the amount of TSH is high, the thyroid will both enlarge and secrete too much thyroxin. The result is termed as Hyperthyroidism with a goiter. Graves' disease is the most common form of this disorder.
Euthyroid goiter : If dietary iodine is insufficient, too little thyroxin will be secreted and the pituitary will sense the deficiency and produce more TSH. The thyroid gland will enlarge enough to make sufficient thyroxin.
Hypothyroid goiter: If dietary iodine is severely low, even an enlarged gland will not be able to make enough thyroxin. The gland may keep growing under the influence of TSH, but it may never make enough thyroxin.
An endocrinologist who specializes in the endocrine system can also be consulted for thyroid problems and diseases. Specialists who deal with thyroid problem are called thyroidologists. Thryoidologist and endocrinologist are specially trained doctors who diagnose and treat diseases affecting the thyroid gland. A thyroid specialist continues specialized education focused on thyroid issues after obtaining a Masters degree in medicine. He is qualified and trained to treat conditions that are complex and involve many systems within the body that may be affected due to thyroid imbalance.
A primary care doctor too often misses the diagnosis of a thyroid disease. Sometimes primary care doctors refer patients to a thyroid specialist when there is problem in the endocrine/ hormone systems. Thyroid specialists treat patients with too much or too little thyroid hormone. The thyroid specialist helps the patients to reach a hormone balance by replacing or blocking thyroid hormone. Thyroid specialists also receive special training to manage patients with thyroid growths or thyroid cancer and enlarged thyroid glands. There are times when the services of a thryoidologist or an endocrinologist become absolutely necessary.
The keen focus in the study of endocrinology is on the endocrine organs such as the pituitary, adrenals, thyroid, testes, ovaries and pancreas. The most important function of these organs is to secrete hormones and in balanced levels. Human body does not always secrete balanced levels of hormones from these glands and thus a hormonal imbalance occurs. This hormonal imbalance is called as endocrinopathy or endocrinosis, this field of study points out the functioning and how to fix the malfunctioning of any of the endocrine glands. A doctor who specializes in the treatment of endocrine disorders is called an endocrinologist. The doctor specializes in fields such as diabetes (malfunctioning of the pancreas), hyperthyroidism (malfunctioning of the thyroid glands) etc.
After completion of medical school, and after three to four years of internship and residency, further specialization of two or three years is needed. Special branches of endocrinologists:
Hyperthyroidism is a condition that occurs when there is too much thyroid hormone in the body. The hormones thyroxine and tri-iodothyronine are produced by the thyroid gland and play a major role in determining the body's metabolic rate. When there is excess amount of thyroid hormones, it will lead to a faster metabolism resulting in hyperthyroidism. Hyperthyroidism occurs when thyroid cells trap excess iodine and produce excessive thyroid hormone. Sometimes the cause is damaged or inflamed thyroid cells. A person suffering from hyperthyroidism experiences excessive sweating and rapid heart rate (palpitations) and tremors. Such persons may notice loss of weight and extreme fatigue. These symptoms appear gradually and may sometimes go unnoticed. A person suffering from hyperthyroidism may feel nervous and notice muscle weakness. Women who are suffering from hyperthyroidism tend to have light menstrual periods or may even miss few cycles. Hair becomes brittle and skin becomes warm and moist. A person may appear agitated and confused. Patients suffering from hyperthyroidism often notice swelling at the base of the neck.
Thyroid Scan is used to measure the activity of the thyroid gland with radioactive substance. The blood TSH levels are measured to check for increased production of thyroid hormone. Graves Disease is an autoimmune disease that results in an overactive thyroid gland. This in turn leads to hyperthyroidism. Thyroiditis or inflammation of the thyroid gland is yet another cause for hyperthyroidism. Goiter or toxic nodule on the thyroid gland can be another cause for hyperthyroidism.
Anti thyroid drugs are used to control the production of thyroid hormone. These drugs include methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU). Radioactive Iodine treatment for hyperthyroidism involves a pill or liquid that is administered to the patient so as to ablate a hyperactive gland. Radioactive iodine therapy destroys only local cells and is generally given as a one-dose treatment. It is essential to monitor this treatment since it may lead to destroy too many thyroid cells and even lead to hypothyroidism. This treatment for hyperthyroidism is not used on pregnant or lactating women. Surgery is used to remove thyroid gland but this procedure is not without possible complications. Removal of too much tissue leads to hypothyroidism and often nerves connected with the vocal chords might be affected.
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Collection of Pages - Last revised Date: September 25, 2022