Most thyroid abnormalities can be detected by checking your body’s thyroid stimulating hormone level (TSH) through a thyroid screening. In your body, the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) is synthesized and secreted by your pituitary gland. You can view the TSH like a messenger sent to knock on the door of the thyroid. Its purpose is to regulate your thyroid gland, to tell it to produce more, or to tell it to produce less. In a healthy individual, its message is based on whether your blood levels have too little thyroid hormones to meet the demands of your body, or too much.
What are the Warning Signs? Warning signs for thyroid abnormalities can vary based on the specific type of abnormality. The American Thyroid Association recommends that adults over age 35 be screened for thyroid disease every 5 years. The risks of some common thyroid abnormalities are:
Hyperthyroidism can mimic other health problems, which may make it difficult for your doctor to diagnose. It can also cause a wide variety of signs and symptoms, including:
Sudden weight loss, even when your appetite and diet remain normal or even increase Rapid heartbeat (tachycardia) — commonly more than 100 beats a minute — irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or pounding of your heart (palpitations) Increased appetite Nervousness, anxiety and irritability Tremor — usually a fine trembling in your hands and fingers Sweating Changes in menstrual patterns Increased sensitivity to heat Changes in bowel patterns, especially more frequent bowel movements An enlarged thyroid gland (goiter), which may appear as a swelling at the base of your neck Fatigue, muscle weakness Difficulty sleeping Older adults are more likely to have either no signs or symptoms or subtle ones, such as an increased heart rate, heat intolerance and a tendency to become tired during ordinary activities. Medications called beta blockers, which are used to treat high blood pressure and other conditions, can mask many of the signs of hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism signs and symptom may include:
Fatigue Sluggishness Increased sensitivity to cold Constipation Pale, dry skin A puffy face Hoarse voice An elevated blood cholesterol level Unexplained weight gain Muscle aches, tenderness and stiffness Pain, stiffness or swelling in your joints Muscle weakness Heavier than normal menstrual periods Brittle fingernails and hair Depression When hypothyroidism isn’t treated, signs and symptoms can gradually become more severe. Constant stimulation of your thyroid to release more hormones may lead to an enlarged thyroid (goiter). In addition, you may become more forgetful, your thought processes may slow, or you may feel depressed.
Thyroid nodules, for the most part, don’t cause signs or symptoms. Occasionally, however, some nodules become so large that they can:
Be felt Be seen, often as a swelling at the base of your neck Press on your windpipe or esophagus, causing shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing In some cases, thyroid nodules produce too much thyroxine, a hormone secreted by your thyroid gland. The extra thyroxine can cause problems such as:
Sudden, unexplained weight loss Nervousness Rapid or irregular heartbeat A few thyroid nodules are cancerous but it’s difficult to tell which nodules are malignant by symptoms alone. Although size isn’t a predictor of whether a nodule is malignant or not, cancerous thyroid tumors are more likely to be large fixed masses that grow quickly.
Am I at Risk? Some of the common risk factors for the above thyroid abnormalities are:
Previous thyroid dysfunction Surgery or radiotherapy affecting the thyroid gland Goiter Diabetes Vitiligo (an autoimmune disorder in which white patches of skin appear on different parts of the body) A lack of vitamin B12 A family history of thyroid abnormalities
If you have any of the above risk factors, then a health screening might be right for you.