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Treatments for Common Thyroid Disorders

Tuesday 21 April 2020
Thyroid Disorders

Table of Contents


I. The importance of the thyroid

II. Hyperthyroidism 

a. Diagnosis and treatment

III. Hypothyroidism

a. Diagnosis and treatment

IV. Hashimoto’s disease

a. Diagnosis and treatment

V. Graves’ disease

a. Diagnosis and treatment

VI. Goiter and nodules

a. Diagnosis and treatment 


The importance of the thyroid 

The thyroid is an essential part of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is made up of many glands that are vital in the function of the body’s metabolism, tissue function, sexual function, sleep, mood, and many others. 

The thyroid releases two important hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The function of the thyroid gland is to take iodine, which you receive through your diet, and convert it into T3 and T4. Every cell in the body relies on the thyroid for the regulation of the metabolism. The most common thyroid disorders include hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, Graves’ disease, Hashimoto’s disease, goiters, and nodules. Symptoms of these disorders can be controlled with medications like Synthroid. Read on to learn more about the treatment methods for these disorders. 

a doctor holding up a slide

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland is overactive and produces too much of its hormone. Graves’ disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism, affecting over 70 percent of those with an overactive thyroid. Irritability, racing heart, shaking, anxiety, and trouble sleeping are common symptoms of this disorder. 

a. Diagnosis and treatment

To diagnose this disorder, your doctor will measure the levels of thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) in your blood. High thyroxine and TSH levels indicate whether or not your thyroid gland is overactive. 

Your doctor may also give you radioactive iodine by mouth and then measure how much of the iodine your thyroid absorbs. If the thyroid absorbs a lot of radioactive iodine, then your thyroid is overactive. This is not a dangerous treatment for most people. 

Some conventional treatments for hyperthyroid disorders most often include:

  • Antithyroid drugs like Tapazole, which prevent the thyroid from producing too much thyroid hormone. 

  • Radioactive iodine is usually in pill form and makes the thyroid take in iodine. This does damage to the gland after prolonged use. 

  • If problems with this disorder continue, surgery can be performed to remove the thyroid gland.[1] 

Hypothyroidism 

This disorder is the opposite of hyperthyroidism and involves an underactive thyroid. Hashimoto’s disease most often results in hypothyroidism. Radiation treatment and damage to the thyroid may also cause this disorder. Some symptoms may include fatigue, dry skin, depression, constipation, weakness, and slow heart rate. 

a. Diagnosis and treatment

To accurately diagnose hypothyroidism, your doctor will perform blood tests to determine the amount of TSH and thyroid hormone levels. Having a high TSH indicates that the thyroid gland is underactive. 

Hypothyroidism can be easier to treat than other thyroid disorders, so medications are often the first line of treatment. Medications like Synthroid and Levoxyl are most often used. These drugs contain a synthetic hormone called levothyroxine. This drug restores adequate hormone levels, which can reverse symptoms of hypothyroidism. 

You will notice improvements in your symptoms soon after beginning these drugs. Levothyroxine drugs also lower cholesterol levels and can reverse weight gain caused by hypothyroidism. You will likely have to take these drugs for the rest of your life.

Your doctor will check your blood levels every six months to determine your dosage. If you take excessive amounts of these drugs, the following side effects can occur:

  • Increased appetite 

  • Insomnia

  • Heart palpitations

  • Shakiness [2]

a green coffee cup with a person sleeping in the background

Hashimoto’s Disease

Hashimoto’s disease is a condition that occurs when the immune system attacks the thyroid. This condition is also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis and leads to an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism). This disease most often affects middle-aged women but can occur in people of any age. 

Signs and symptoms of this disease can be hard to pin down, but if left unchecked, it can lead to swelling in the front of the throat, which is also known as a goiter. This disease usually happens slowly over several years. Some common symptoms of this disease include fatigue, a puffy face, brittle nails, hair loss, constipation, and unexplained weight gain.

a. Diagnosis and treatment 

It is crucial to seek the help of a doctor if you experience hypothyroid symptoms. Your doctor will measure levels of thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) produced in the pituitary gland through the following tests:

A hormone test: Blood tests determine the number of thyroid hormones in your blood. If the thyroid is underactive, then there is a low level of hormone in the blood. If you are experiencing Hashimoto’s disease, then the TSH levels will also be elevated because the pituitary gland is trying to stimulate your thyroid gland to produce more thyroid hormone. 

Antibody test: Abnormal antibodies usually accompany Hashimoto’s disease because it is an autoimmune disorder. Blood tests can determine the presence of thyroid peroxidase (TPO antibodies), which is an important enzyme found in the thyroid gland. TPO antibodies are not present in everyone with Hashimoto’s disease, but your doctor will be able to determine your condition with further blood tests.

Synthetic hormones are most commonly used to improve the symptoms of Hashimoto’s disease. The synthetic form of T4 levothyroxine is commonly used for treatment, but drugs like Synthroid are not a cure-all. The addition of other hormone drugs like liothyronine (Cytomel)  can make a person feel fully normal. [3] 

Graves’ Disease

As discussed above, Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. This is an autoimmune disorder that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid gland and produces too much hormone in response. Risk factors of Graves’ disease can include stress, pregnancy, and smoking. When there is too much thyroid hormone in the bloodstream, it can cause many symptoms in the body, including anxiety, fatigue, excessive sweating, and goiter. 

a. Diagnosis and treatment 

Physical exams are done initially to determine if the thyroid is enlarged. Signs of increased metabolism, bulging eyes, rapid pulse, and high blood pressure typically signify the presence of this disease. Your doctor will also have you undergo blood tests to determine if you have high T4 levels and low TSH levels, which both signify Graves’ disease. 

There is no cure for this disease, but several treatments are available, including:

  • Beta-blockers that control rapid heart rate, anxiety, and sweating

  • Radioactive iodine to destroy all or part of your thyroid 

  • Surgery to remove the thyroid gland

  • Antithyroid medications to prevent the thyroid from producing too much hormone

Unfortunately, successful hyperthyroid treatment usually results in hypothyroidism. Because of this, you will have to take synthetic hormone drugs for the rest of your life. 

Goiter and nodules

Your doctor will administer a physical exam and have you swallow to see if you have a goiter. Goiters are caused by abnormal levels of thyroid hormone and antibodies in your bloodstream. Your doctor may also do an ultrasound on your thyroid to check for swelling or nodules. 

In most cases, goiters are only treated once they become severe enough to cause symptoms. Goiters are not usually a sign of concern, but they can lead to breathing and swallowing complications. Nodules are also common and present themselves in people with iodine deficiency and Hashimoto’s disease. The nodules can be solid or fluid-filled. Some nodules produce hyperthyroidism symptoms. 

an illustration showing a woman with an enlarged thyroid

a. Diagnosis and treatment

Goiters are often treated with small doses of iodine if the cause of the goiter comes from a diet deficiency. Radioactive iodine can shrink the thyroid gland and bring down the swelling that is causing the goiter. 

Thyroid nodules are often harmless, but a needle biopsy of the tissue may be taken to make sure that the nodules are not harmful or cancerous. In most cases, nothing is done to remove the nodules if they do not get bigger over time. [1] 

The content in this article is intended for informational purposes only. This website does not provide medical advice. In all circumstances, you should always seek the advice of your physician and/or other qualified health professionals(s) for drug, medical condition, or treatment advice. The content provided on this website is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.