Thyroid issues are a fairly common health problem, especially in women. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can cause a wide range of symptoms that can affect your everyday life — but fortunately, most causes of thyroid disease can be managed through different treatments so you can lead a normal life.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about thyroid treatment.
Your thyroid is a small gland located at the front of the neck. Although it’s very small, this gland plays many important roles in the regulation of your metabolism. The functioning of your thyroid gland depends on having a good iodine intake, which the gland uses to produce thyroid hormones, called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). According to the Society for Endocrinology, the functions of the thyroid gland include:
- Controlling heart, muscle, and brain function
- Bone maintenance
- Brain development
- Metabolic rate regulation
Treatment for thyroid issues will differ depending on whether you’re suffering from hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid is underactive and doesn’t produce enough hormones, which slows down your metabolism. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the symptoms of hypothyroidism can include:
- Weight gain
- Feeling numbness or tingling in your hands
- Intolerance to cold
- Muscle weakness
- Muscle pain
- Dry, coarse skin and/or hair
- Low libido
- Difficulty concentrating
- Heavy periods
- Puffy eyes and face
- Drooping eyelids
According to the NHS, most cases of hypothyroidism are treated by taking a daily replacement hormone called levothyroxine. Finding the right dosage of levothyroxine for each specific case can take some time, so your doctor could order regular blood tests until your hormone levels are within normal range.
Levothyroxine doesn’t usually cause side effects, since it’s just replacing a hormone that your body should be producing naturally. However, you could experience some adverse reactions if your levothyroxine dose is too high for you, such as sweating, diarrhea, headaches, and chest pain. You should contact your doctor if you experience any new symptoms during your levothyroxine treatment.
Depending on the severity of your symptoms, your doctor could start with a low dose of levothyroxine and increase it as necessary. Some people experience a significant improvement in their symptoms soon after starting treatment, while others require additional adjustments until they feel better.
Hypothyroidism treatment usually has to be taken continuously throughout the rest of your life, and your doctor will probably order regular testing to make sure your treatment is still working well. But fortunately, something as simple as a daily pill can keep your thyroid levels normal and allow you to return to your daily activities, improving your quality of life.
Hyperthyroidism is the opposite condition to hypothyroidism. There are different conditions that can cause an overactive thyroid, but the root cause of the issue is due to excessive thyroid hormone production. According to the Cleveland Clinic, the symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Tremors or shaking
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Thin skin
- Intolerance to heat
- Sleep problems
- Hair loss and brittle hair
- Goiter or swelling of the neck
- Bulging eyes
- Muscle weakness
- Double vision
There are several treatments for hyperthyroidism, and the right treatment for you will depend on your specific diagnosis, overall health condition, and the severity of your symptoms. According to the Mayo Clinic, some of these treatments include:
- Radioactive iodine. This medication is taken by mouth and is absorbed by your thyroid gland, causing it to shrink back to a normal size. Radioactive iodine can take some time to work, and any excess medication will simply be excreted by your body.
- Anti-thyroid medications: these medications, which include methimazole and propylthiouracil, work by preventing your thyroid gland from producing excess hormones. Symptoms usually begin to improve within weeks or months of starting the treatment.
- Beta blockers: these medications are typically taken to regulate your blood pressure and heart rate. Although they can’t regulate your thyroid hormones, they can be used in some cases to relieve some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism.
- Surgery: in severe cases, your doctor could suggest removing most of your thyroid gland surgically in a procedure called thyroidectomy.
- Eye surgery: since hyperthyroidism can cause eye problems, your doctor could recommend certain surgical procedures to relieve these symptoms. Some of the options include orbital decompression surgery and eye muscle surgery.
It’s important to keep in mind that some of these treatments, such as radioactive iodine and surgical removal, can result in hypothyroidism. But as we mentioned above, hypothyroidism can be managed through oral medications without significant side effects, which isn’t always possible with hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid issues can cause a wide range of uncomfortable symptoms that can impact your everyday routine and quality of life. But the good news is that thanks to modern diagnosis and treatment techniques, your thyroid hormone levels can be managed so you can lead a normal life again.