Do You Have a Healthy Thyroid?


Approximately 20 million people in the United States have some type of thyroid disorder making it a very common condition. However, as many as 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition, which is why it is important to be familiar with the symptoms and to talk with your doctor if you have any concerns.

What is thyroid disease?

The thyroid gland is a small organ in the front of the neck that makes the hormones that control many different systems in the body. Sometimes, the thyroid produces too much or too little hormones, which can affect the entire body.

“If your thyroid makes too much hormone, you can develop a condition known as hyperthyroidism, in which your body uses energy too quickly,” said Jessica Lundgren, MD, an endocrinologist with Penn Highlands Endocrinology who sees patients via telemedicine. “If it makes too little, you can develop hypothyroidism, which slows down your metabolism.”

What causes thyroid disease?

Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are usually caused by other conditions. Hypothyroidism can be caused by thyroiditis (an inflammation of the thyroid gland), Hashimoto’s thyroiditis (an inherited autoimmune condition where the body’s cells attack the thyroid), iodine deficiency or a non-functioning thyroid gland (which occurs at birth and affects about 1 in every 4,000 newborns).

Hyperthyroidism, on the other hand, can be caused by Graves’ disease (where the entire thyroid gland becomes overactive), individual nodules within the thyroid that are overactive, thyroiditis (an inflammation of the thyroid gland that can also cause hypothyroidism) or excessive iodine (which can be caused by some medications).

What are the symptoms of thyroid disease?

Because one condition speeds up the metabolism and one slows it down, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism produce very different symptoms.

Symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include:

  • Changes in bowel patterns or menstrual cycles.
  • Enlarged thyroid gland, which may appear as a swelling in the lower neck.
  • Fast heartbeat, irregular heartbeat or pounding of the heart.
  • Fine, brittle hair.
  • Increased hunger.
  • Increased sensitivity to heat.
  • Muscle weakness.
  • Nervousness, anxiety and irritability.
  • Sweating.
  • Fatigue and sleep problems.
  • Tremors in the hands or fingers.
  • Unexplained weight loss.
  • Warm, moist skin or thinning skin.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism may include:

  • Coarse hair and skin.
  • Constipation.
  • Depression.
  • Dry skin.
  • Hoarse voice.
  • Increased sensitivity to cold.
  • Memory problems.
  • Menstrual cycles that are heavier than usual or irregular.
  • Muscle weakness, aches, tenderness or stiffness.
  • Puffy face.
  • Slowed heart rate, also called bradycardia.
  • Thinning hair.
  • Fatigue.
  • Weight gain.

The symptoms of a thyroid condition are often very similar to signs of other medical conditions, which can make it difficult to know if they are related to a thyroid issue or something else. If your doctor suspects that you may have a thyroid issue, they will conduct a blood test that measures the amount of thyroid hormones present.

Who is at risk for thyroid disease?

Thyroid disease can affect anyone at any age, although women are about five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition than men.

You may also be at higher risk if you:

  • Are older than 60.
  • Have a family history of thyroid disease.
  • Have a medical condition, such as pernicious anemia, type 1 diabetes, primary adrenal insufficiency, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome or Turner syndrome.
  • Take a medication high in iodine, such as amiodarone.
  • Have been treated for a thyroid condition or cancer.

How is thyroid disease treated?

Treatment depends on the type and cause of the thyroid condition. In general, hyperthyroidism can be treated with anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine, beta blockers or, in some cases, surgery to remove the thyroid.

Hypothyroidism is primarily treated with thyroid replacement medication, which adds thyroid hormones into the body. Thyroid replacement medication is also used for individuals with hyperthyroidism who undergo surgery to remove the thyroid gland.

While thyroid disease is a lifelong condition that needs to be constantly managed, most people can live a normal life without many restrictions.

Penn Highlands Healthcare offers comprehensive endocrinology care, including diagnosis and treatment for thyroid problems, adrenal disorders, pituitary gland disorders and diabetes. For more information, visit