What is Thyroid: Symptoms, Causes, Types and Diagnosis

Dr. Awanindra Kumar

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Awanindra Kumar

General Physician

7 min read

Key Takeaways

  • Thyroid plays an important role in your body’s metabolism, growth and development
  • While most cases of hyperthyroidism have a common cause, there are about 7 factors you should know of
  • Thyroid disorders are serious and should not be taken lightly

There are eight major endocrine glands in the body and among them is the thyroid gland. It is butterfly-shaped and located on the front of the neck, directly under the voice box. Knowing thyroid anatomy can help you better understand how this gland affects your voice and where its hormones are secreted from. The thyroid is responsible for releasing various hormones into the blood, which are together called thyroid hormones, and controls major body functions. It plays a role in your body’s metabolism, growth and development too. So, if you’ve ever wondered, ‘Is thyroid disease?’, you now have a clear answer and are aware that it is an important gland in the body.

However, like with any part of the human body, there are ways in which it can malfunction and cause disorders. Understanding these disorders is important, especially if you’re susceptible to or are at risk of developing these. For a more detailed understanding of thyroid disorders, their causes, and their symptoms and to know how you can prevent them, read on.'

What is Thyroid Disease?

The thyroid gland has an essential role to play in your body’s metabolic processes. When this organ produces either too little or too many thyroid hormones, it causes thyroid disease. This endocrine gland produces T3 and T4 hormones and releases them into the blood. With the help of these T3 and T4 thyroid hormones, your body’s cells work efficiently. The thyroid gland is located in front of the neck region and consists of two lobes. Both are situated on both sides of your windpipe. While thyroid disease occur commonly in women, they can even affect men, children, and babies. Timely diagnosis with the right thyroid treatment can help you easily manage thyroid conditions. 

What Causes Thyroid Problems?

There are many thyroids causes that you must keep in mind. One of the main thyroid causes is the deficiency of iodine. The thyroid gland requires iodine to produce hormones. When your body does not get sufficient quantities of iron, it produces fewer thyroid hormones; a condition called hypothyroidism. If you have any problem in the thyroid gland from birth, it can affect thyroid functioning and cause thyroid disease. Inflammation of the thyroid gland can also hamper the production of thyroid hormones. 

Autoimmune diseases may result in your immune system attacking your thyroid gland. This can either result in excess production of hormones called hyperthyroidism or reduced hormone production called hypothyroidism. Genetic defects, nodules in the thyroid gland, and tumors are a few other thyroid causes you must know about.

Thyroid Symptoms

You may experience various thyroid symptoms when there is an excess or decreased production of thyroid hormones. If you have an overactive thyroid gland, you may experience the following thyroid symptoms.

  • Extreme sensitiveness to heat
  • Unexplained weight loss
  • General weakness in your body
  • Sleeping issues
  • Eye ailments
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Irregular menstrual cycle

Thyroid Early Symptoms:

If you have an underactive thyroid, the thyroid symptoms you may notice include the following. 

  • High sensitivity to cold
  • Unexplained weight gain
  • Bowel problems like constipation
  • Swelling and pain in the joints
  • Dryness of skin
  • Increased cholesterol levels
  • Poor memory

It is crucial to get thyroid treatment on time to avoid future health complications and to better manage the symptoms.

Thyroid Types

There are 2 major thyroid types that you should be aware of. You can either develop hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, both of which are related to the gland’s production of the thyroid hormones.

1. Hyperthyroidism:

Otherwise known as an overactive thyroid, this is when the thyroid produces too much of the tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) hormones. These are the key to controlling how cells use energy and they help with regulating the body’s metabolism. Moreover, the leading cause of hyperthyroidism occurs more often in women and has a genetic link. This is also not as common as hypothyroidism and so, it is important to get regular check-ups if there is someone in your family with the condition.

Causes of Hyperthyroidism

While most cases of hyperthyroidism have a common cause, there are about 7 factors you should know of. With this disorder of the thyroid, reasons like tumours, inflammation and even certain medication can play a role. This is why you should know what can cause such a disorder and stay alert to it to avoid thyroid symptoms that follow. Here’s an explanation of the factors that can cause hyperthyroidism.

  1. Certain medication
  2. Thyroid nodules
  3. High levels of human chorionic gonadotropin
  4. Thyroiditis
  5. Graves’ disease
  6. Thyroid cancer
  7. Pituitary adenoma

Early signs and symptoms of Hyperthyroidism

Before learning about the clear symptoms of hyperthyroidism, you should know about the early signs. This helps with an early diagnosis and gives you a jumpstart on treatment. Moreover, a lot of these early signs are physical in nature, meaning they’re hard to miss.

  • Excessive sweating
  • Red palms
  • Hives or a raised, itchy rash
  • Thinning hair or patchy hair loss
  • Swelling in the neck
  • Vision problems coupled with dryness or redness of the eyes
  • Palpitations
  • Twitching

These are all the signs to lookout for when it comes to hyperthyroidism. Now, for the symptoms of this disorder, here is what you can expect.

  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Extreme thirst
  • Frequent urination
  • Insomnia
  • Diarrhoea
  • Unintentional weight loss
  • Hyperactivity
  • Anxiety
  • Nervousness
  • Increased appetite
  • Nausea
  • Brittle hair
  • Breast development in men

2. Hypothyroidism

Unlike with hyperthyroidism where the gland is overactive, with hypothyroidism, the gland doesn’t produce enough of the necessary hormones. As the thyroid controls important bodily functions, without proper hormone production, these functions begin to slow down. This condition also affects women more than men, and this is why you should get tested regularly. The best way to know is to undergo a thyroid function test as per your doctor’s suggestions. The common causes for such a disorder result from issues within the gland itself or from specific regions in the brain. Given the nature of these causes, it is important to get tested and to know what leads to the development of hypothyroidism.

Additional Read: Home Remedies for Thyroid Problems

Causes of Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism has 6 common causes which share some similarities with those that cause hyperthyroidism. Here too you’ll find that an autoimmune disease and medical treatments can lead to this disorder. This is a list of 6 factors that cause hypothyroidism.

  1. Radiation therapy
  2. Hashimoto’s disease
  3. Treatment with radioactive iodine
  4. Surgical removal of a damaged thyroid gland
  5. Certain medication
  6. Acute thyroiditis or postpartum thyroiditis

Symptoms of Hypothyroidism

A lot of the symptoms experienced with hypothyroidism vary from person to person. This is because it is mainly dependent on the severity of hormone deficiency. Rather than exhibiting symptoms instantly, it is likely that those afflicted will develop these over a few years. In fact, you may not even notice many symptoms in the early stages or as a youngster. For this reason, it is important to know what to look for, especially if there is familial history with such diseases.

Here are a few common signs and symptoms of hypothyroidism.

  • Dry skin
  • Muscle weakness, tenderness, stiffness
  • Slowed heart rate
  • Goiter
  • Cold sensitivity
  • Weight gain
  • Elevated cholesterol levels
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Impaired memory
  • Swollen joints
  • Fatigue

Thyroid Diagnosis:

Proper diagnosis can help in the effective management of thyroid disease. If you show thyroid symptoms such as constipation and dry skin, your doctor may conduct tests to check if you have an underactive thyroid. The most common test that can point to thyroid disease is a simple blood test. They measure the level of TSH and thyroxine hormone. If your blood has high TSH levels and low thyroxine levels, it indicates your thyroid gland is underactive. TSH is a hormone produced in your brain's pituitary gland. If your thyroid gland produces less hormones, your pituitary gland secretes excess TSH into the blood. So, a higher TSH level means you have hypothyroidism.

On the other hand, low TSH levels in the blood indicate that your thyroid gland is overactive and producing excess hormones. Apart from blood tests, you may have to undergo imaging tests to check for any abnormality in the thyroid structure.

Thyroid Disease Preventing Tips

It is important to note that not all forms of thyroid disease can be prevent or avoided. In some cases, you can only lower your risk and that is a worthwhile endeavour. Here’s what you can do:

  • Maintain healthy iodine levels
  • Quit smoking
  • Insist on thyroid collars during dental x-rays
  • Control soy food intake
  • Cook cruciferous vegetable properly
  • Check for vitamin D deficiency
Additional Read: Thyroid Diet: Food to Eat and Food to Avoid

Thyroid disorders are serious and should not be taken lightly. Knowing how they can affect your life helps highlight the importance of appropriate care. For many disorders of the thyroid, home remedies coupled with medication can help control or revert back to optimal function. However, for more severe cases, you may require a thyroidectomy to get better. This medical operation is performed by a specialist and it is wise to consult one if you’re showing signs of any such illness.

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Published on 2 Nov 2020Last updated on 17 Nov 2022
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Please note that this article is solely meant for informational purposes and Bajaj Finserv Health Limited (“BFHL”) does not shoulder any responsibility of the views/advice/information expressed/given by the writer/reviewer/originator. This article should not be considered as a substitute for any medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Always consult with your trusted physician/qualified healthcare professional to evaluate your medical condition. The above article has been reviewed by a qualified doctor and BFHL is not responsible for any damages for any information or services provided by any third party.

Dr. Awanindra Kumar

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Awanindra Kumar

, MBBS 1 , M.D. 3


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