Nearly every metabolic process in the human body is influenced by the hormones produced by the thyroid gland. But when the thyroid acts up, it can cause a wide range of problems, from minor annoyances like a swollen gland to life threatening diseases and thyroid problems like thyroid cancer.
An abnormal production of hormones by the thyroid gland is usually the root cause for many of the most common thyroid maladies.
- Hyperthyroidism is when too much hormone is produced, which can occur in Graves’ disease, toxic adenomas, and pituitary gland malfunctions.
- Hypothyroidism is when too little hormone is produced, and can be caused by Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, exposure to iodide, and the drug Lithium.
Thyroid Problems are Common
Of all the thyroid problems, Graves’ disease is perhaps one of the more common varieties, and a leading cause of hyperthyroidism. This disorder, caused when the thyroid produces too much hormones, isn’t difficult to treat, once diagnosed.
Graves’ disease can potentially be life-threatening without proper care, but will go into remission and disappear after a time and medical treatment. If proper care is received, Graves’ disease will generally cause no adverse or long term health problems, though the symptoms of Graves’ disease can cause some discomfort to the patient.
The body’s metabolism is controlled by the hormones secreted by the thyroid. Metabolism, or the speed the body turns food products into useable energy, is controlled by the amount of hormones circulating through the body. Too much of these hormones cause the metabolism to speed up immensely, directly leading to many of the symptoms that people with a hyperthyroid problem display. Sweating, a pounding heartbeat, weight loss and trembling are all common with a malfunctioning thyroid due to Graves’ disease.
Ordinarily, hormone production in the thyroid is triggered by another chemical in the body, called a thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH, manufactured in the pituitary gland, located in the brain. However, Graves’ disease mimics TSH and causes an incorrect signal to produce hormones to be sent to the thyroid, causing the thyroid gland to produce far more hormones than is actually needed.
Why Thyroid Problems Happen
The cause of the malfunction responsible for the increased productions of these hormones isn’t certain, but characteristics such as heredity are thought to play a role in a person’s susceptibility to Graves’ disease. For example, studies have shown that if one twin develops Graves’ disease, the other twin has a 20% chance of developing the disease as well.
Graves’ disease is also more common in women than men, and victims of the disease who smoke are shown to have a greater chance than non-smokers of developing eye problems. Still, there isn’t a single gene that is the cause of Graves’ disease, but rather, it is caused by factors such as stress and environmental influences.
Exophthalmos, or the protruding of the eyeballs from their sockets caused by swollen and inflamed eye muscles and tissues, can be a telling sign of Graves’ disease, though only a small percentage of sufferers will experience the condition.
Even though there seems to be a link between the two, the severity of the exophthalmos is not influenced by the severity of the Graves’ disease, and vice versa. In fact it has been speculated that the problem of eye protrusion might not be caused directly by Graves’ disease, but rather by a closely linked but different disorder.
Hyperthyroidism has been shown to cause many problems within the human body, but with prompt and proper care, many of these problems can be effectively treated.
Dr. Michael Barakate is a pediatric and adult otolaryngologist located in Sydney, Australia offering thyroid and parathyroid information at Thyroid.com.au.