Diagnosis of Thyroid Disorders
Thyroid disorders range from diseases that increase the amount of hormone produced to those that totally eradicate the production. In both instances these conditions will also radically affect the health of the individuals affected. Because there are several different conditions that may have the same symptoms diagnosis can sometimes be challenging.
The thyroid gland is a butterfly shaped organ that is located on the front of the neck, just in front of the windpipe. It produces hormones which regulate the rate at which body cells use energy and produce heat.
When there is an over active or under active thyroid gland it can negatively affect the health of the individual. A person with too little hormone is said to suffer from hypothyroidism and a person with too much suffers from hyperthyroidism.
Diagnosis will start with a thorough physical and medical history. The physician will be looking for telltale signs that point to problems of the thyroid gland and whether they are indicative of too much or too little hormone.
Persons who have too little hormone produced will find their body is sluggish, they have cold intolerance, dry skin and very scanty hair growth.
In people who have an over active thyroid, their body metabolism will increase which will result in weight loss, excessive warmth and sweating. They may also suffer from noticeably trembling hands and pounding heart.
To assess the level of the thyroid hormone physicians will order a specific blood tests. There are two different hormones: thyroxine, known as T4 and and tri-iodothyronine, known as T3. The production of both of these hormones is controlled by thyroid stimulating hormone, produced in the pituitary gland. This means that the pituitary gland acts like a sensor-if there is too little thyroid hormone in the blood it releases thyroid stimulating hormone to tell the thyroid to produce more.
The best way that doctors have to determine if the body is making too little or too much thyroid hormone is by measuring blood levels of thyroid stimulating hormone. If the thyroid stimulating level is abnormal the physicians will move on to test for the two different thyroid hormone levels. These blood tests provide an accurate picture of how the thyroid is functioning.
Once the physician finds proof of an abnormality in blood levels of thyroid hormone they will continue to test looking for specific reasons for the abnormality. For instance, if the physician believes that you have hyperthyroidism related to Graves’ disease they will check the blood for thyroid stimulating antibodies to determine if the thyroid is being attacked by your own body.
The physician will also do a thorough physical examination to determine if there are nodules on the thyroid or if the thyroid gland itself is inflamed, painful or hard. Each of these different symptoms is indicative of a different diagnosis.
Additional tests will include a fine – needle biopsy, which is the most sensitive test for distinguishing benign and malignant nodules. Ultrasonography will be used to visualize the thyroid using high-frequency sound waves rather than radiation. It gives the best information about shape and structure of any nodules. And a thyroid scan may be used to help evaluate the nodules. During this test a radioactive isotope is injected into the vein, after which a special camera is used to take images of the thyroid which takes the radioactive iodine from the blood.
Each of the tests used in the diagnosis of thyroid disorders will help the physician to determine exactly what is causing the abnormality in the production of hormone or growth of the gland. If you think you are having symptoms of too much or too little thyroid seek the advice of your physician.
American Thyroid Association: iPhone can Diagnose Thyroid Disease
Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism: Diagnosing Thyroid Dysfunction in Pregnant Women
American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology: Thyroid Disease
Women’s health: Thyroid Disease Fact Sheet
Cleveland Clinic: Thyroid Disease