The thyroid is a small glandular organ shaped like a butterfly with two conical lobes that look like wings. The small size is no reflection of its functioning, and going by the size of other glands in the endocrine system, it is actually one of the larger endocrine glands. The hormones produced by the thyroid play an important role in metabolism and are used by almost every cell in the body. Due to this reason, symptoms of thyroid problems can potentially surface in any part of the body.
Thyroid problems are broadly classified as under:
- Hyperthyroidism, a thyroid condition where more than necessary hormones are produced.
- Hypothyroidism, a state of inadequate production.
- Autoimmune disease.
- Enlargement, formation of nodules, benign or malignant, around the gland.
Hyperthyroidism occurs in a number of clinical conditions like Graves’ disease, goiter and benign epithelial tumors. High levels of thyroid hormones in the blood may also occur due to different physiological conditions like thyroiditis and a tumor in the ovaries. There are different types of thyroditis that initially raise hormonal levels and compromise thyroid health, which eventually leads to inadequate production of thyroid hormones. Over consumption of thyroid hormones while undergoing hormone replacement therapy or even ingesting beef polluted with thyroid tissue may also raise hormone levels in the blood.
Hypothyroidism is mainly caused by iodine deficiency. The main thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) have iodine as their main component. The first is almost 65% iodine and the latter is almost similar, but with one less atom per molecule. Iodine deficiency leads to Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, which ultimately leads to an under production of hormones. The production process for thyroid hormones is initiated by the pituitary gland and the hypothalamus. Problems with either of these two may also affect the production of T3 and T4. Postpartum thyroiditis is another cause of under-active thyroid condition.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease are autoimmune diseases. The specifics and triggers of immune-mediated destruction of thyroid cells and production of auto antibodies are not fully understood. Both these thyroid conditions usually have a hereditary or genetic involvement.
Thyroid cancer is probably the most dreaded of all thyroid problems. Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine cancer. Just like any other cancer, thyroid cancer too evades explanation. In the absence of confirmed causes, it is also relegated to the inability of the immune system to recognize and destroy cancerous cells.