A female doctor prescribing something to her patient.

Thyroid Disease – Types, Causes and Symptoms, and Treatments

A female doctor prescribing something to her patient.

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of the neck. This gland secretes hormones that control many functions within your body. The thyroid can cause various uncomfortable symptoms when it produces too many or too few hormones.

Let’s take a closer look at some common types of thyroid diseases, along with the symptoms, causes, tests, and treatment options.

Types of Thyroid Issues

Thyroid problems are usually grouped into one of two categories: hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Within these categories, there are more specific diseases, which we will discuss below.

A thyroid disorder can be influenced by issues with other glands as well. For example, the pituitary gland releases stimulating thyroid hormone (TSH), which “tells” the thyroid to work.1 If the pituitary gland is underactive, this can also influence the thyroid gland’s activity.

Hypothyroidism (Underactive thyroid)

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid is underactive. This means that the thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormone. Hypothyroidism will cause the metabolism to slow down, causing symptoms like weight gain, cold intolerance, dry skin, and depression.

Underactive thyroid disease can be further broken down into congenital hypothyroidism, autoimmune hypothyroidism, and iatrogenic hypothyroidism.

Congenital hypothyroidism

Congenital hypothyroidism occurs when a baby has an underactive or absent thyroid gland. In most developed countries, babies’ thyroid function is checked shortly after birth since the thyroid plays an essential role in early development. Normal growth and development are still possible if congenital hypothyroidism is detected early.

Autoimmune hypothyroidism

Autoimmune hypothyroidism is also referred to as Hashimoto’s Disease. Your immune system is designed to protect you from disease and infection by releasing certain chemicals to “attack” any foreign invaders that it detects. Sometimes, the immune system functions improperly and accidentally attacks healthy body tissues. This is referred to as an autoimmune disorder. When the immune system attacks the thyroid gland, it impairs normal function of the gland.

Iatrogenic hypothyroidism

Iatrogenic hypothyroidism occurs as a result of a medical treatment that suppresses thyroid function. Sometimes, treatments meant to suppress thyroid function (in cases of hyperthyroidism) work a little too well, causing hypothyroidism. For this reason, it may take some time to figure out a proper medication regimen when treating thyroid disease.

Surgery to remove the thyroid may be recommended for thyroid disorders that do not respond to medication. For this reason, you generally have to supplement with synthetic thyroid hormones following surgery to avoid hypothyroidism.

Other causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • Iodine deficiency
  • Radiation therapy in the head and neck
  • Pregnancy
  • Treatment for hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism (Overactive thyroid)

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid is overactive and too many hormones are released. When individuals suffer from hyperthyroidism, their metabolism is overactive, meaning they may experience weight loss, anxiety, and heat intolerance.

blood sugar measuring device being used

Some conditions that may cause hyperthyroidism include Graves’ disease, hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules, and thyroiditis.

Graves’ disease

Graves’ disease is a type of autoimmune thyroid disorder where the immune system attacks the thyroid gland. This, in turn, causes the thyroid to become overactive as it tries to fight back. Hyperthyroidism is commonly caused by Graves’ disease, accounting for 4 out of 5 cases of hyperthyroidism in the United States.

Hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules

Sometimes, the thyroid will develop growths called thyroid nodules. Thyroid nodules can become enlarged and produce their own thyroid hormones. These are known as “toxic adenomas” or “toxic thyroid nodules.” The most common treatments for hyperfunctioning thyroid nodules are radiation, surgery, and antithyroid medications.

Thyroiditis

Thyroiditis occurs when the thyroid becomes inflamed. This can cause abnormally high or low thyroid hormone levels. There are many different types of thyroiditis, including:

  • Hashimoto’s thyroiditis
  • De Quervain’s (subacute) thyroiditis
  • Postpartum thyroiditis
  • Silent (painless) thyroiditis
  • Drug-induced thyroiditis
  • Radiation-induced thyroiditis
  • Acute or infectious thyroiditis

Generally, thyroiditis causes a period of hyperthyroidism followed by a period of hypothyroidism. Thyroiditis can have unique symptoms that include pain and sensitivity at the front of the neck or pain when swallowing or turning your head.

Other causes of hyperthyroidism include:

  • High iodine levels
  • Tumor on the pituitary gland
  • Overmedication with thyroid replacement hormones

Who is at risk for thyroid issues?

Risk factors for developing thyroid issues vary depending on the condition.

Risk factors for hypothyroidism include:

  • Thyroid surgery
  • Family history of hypothyroidism
  • Recent pregnancy or childbirth
  • Smoking cigarettes or vaping nicotine products
  • Having type 1 diabetes or rheumatoid arthritis

Risk factors that make you more likely to develop hyperthyroidism include:

  • Family history of thyroid disease
  • Having type 1 or 2 diabetes, adrenal insufficiency, or pernicious anemia
  • Eating high-iodine foods or taking medications that contain high levels of iodine
  • Smoking cigarettes or vaping nicotine products
  • Recent pregnancy

Most common symptoms of thyroid issues

Symptoms of thyroid issues will vary depending on the type of thyroid disease.

Hyperthyroidism symptoms are associated with increased metabolism and can manifest as:

woman in a white shirt experiencing neck discomfort
  • Unexplained weight loss with an increased appetite
  • Faster heart rate, heart palpitations, high blood pressure
  • Excessive sweating
  • Restlessness
  • Frequent bowel movements
  • Muscle weakness
  • Hand trembling
  • Lighter or shorter menstrual periods

Hypothyroidism will cause the metabolism to slow down. Common symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Tiredness and fatigue
  • Slower heart rate
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Tingling or numbness in the hands
  • Goiter (or enlargement in the neck)
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Heavy menstrual periods

Tests for thyroid issues

If you suspect you may have a thyroid disorder, your doctor will want to screen you for thyroid disease with blood tests and imaging scans. Several different tests can be ordered depending on the symptoms you are experiencing.

vials with liquid ready for testing

Thyroid blood tests

The first step in diagnosing a thyroid disorder is drawing blood to look for different levels that may indicate certain diseases. Some common thyroid blood tests include:

  • Thyroid Peroxidase Antibody: Thyroid peroxidase (TPO) is usually found in the thyroid gland. This enzyme helps with normal thyroid function. A TPO antibody test looks for antibodies in the blood that attack TPO. A positive TPO antibody test helps with diagnosing an autoimmune thyroid disorder.
  • Thyroglobulin Antibody: Thyroglobulin (Tg) antibody is another type of antibody that may indicate a thyroid disorder caused by an autoimmune condition. A positive thyroglobulin antibody test may indicate Hashimoto’s disease, as many people with this disease have high levels of both Tg and TPO antibodies.
  • T3: T3 is one of the hormones produced by the thyroid gland. Your doctor may test your T3 levels to help diagnose a thyroid disorder. T3 is more often tested in cases of hyperthyroidism rather than hypothyroidism.
  • T4: T4 is another important thyroid hormone, the main thyroid hormone that is found circulating in the blood. T4 levels are often checked alongside TSH levels to help determine the cause of thyroid issues. There are several different T4 tests your doctor may order, including a free T4 test and a T4 index.
  • TSH: Thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) is released from the pituitary gland and prompts the thyroid to release hormones. Measuring TSH levels can help determine if thyroid issues are related only to thyroid dysfunction or if there is an issue with the pituitary gland.

Thyroid imaging tests

Your doctor may also use imaging scans such as an ultrasound, thyroid scan, or radioactive iodine uptake test to look for thyroid gland function abnormalities.

An ultrasound of the thyroid is a painless imaging technique that uses sound waves to see inside the body. This will give the doctor images of your thyroid to look for abnormalities such as growths or enlargement.

Thyroid scans and radioactive iodine uptake tests are usually done together. For this test, you will take a pill that contains radioactive iodine. You may then wait for 4 to 6 hours for the iodine to build up in the thyroid. You will then be scanned to determine the location and intensity of the rays from the radioactive material. A thyroid scan will display images of the thyroid gland, showing how much of the radioactive iodine has built up and where it is located.

The thyroid gland uses iodine to make thyroid hormones, so measuring the amount of iodine that the thyroid takes up during this test helps your doctor determine if the thyroid is functioning properly.

Can you take a thyroid test at home?

If you think you may have thyroid issues, it is important to get tested to find out the cause of your symptoms. You can get your thyroid levels tested from the comfort of your own home. At-home thyroid testing involves a nurse coming to your home to draw your blood.

drawing blood at home

How are thyroid issues treated?

Hyperthyroidism treatment options

If you have hyperthyroidism, your doctor may recommend treatment with medications such as radioactive iodine, antithyroid medications, and beta blockers. Medication is usually the first line of treatment before considering surgery. If the medication does not work, then you may be advised to get your thyroid removed.

Hypothyroidism treatment options

The standard treatment for hypothyroidism is Levothyroxine. Levothyroxine is a synthetic form of thyroid hormone, which supplements the hormones that are lacking. While taking Levothyroxine (especially when you first begin treatment), your doctor will want to regularly check your TSH levels to help determine the proper dosage. If you notice any side effects such as insomnia, heart palpitations, or shakiness, you may be taking too high of a dosage.

Certain foods and medications can interfere with the proper absorption of Levothyroxine. You should avoid taking iron supplements, calcium supplements, and antacids that contain aluminum hydroxide while taking Levothyroxine. It is also best to take Levothyroxine on an empty stomach at the same time every day.

They will then send it off to a lab and contact you with the results. This type of testing offers both convenience and accuracy.

You can also do a DIY test for your thyroid health, which involves drawing your blood yourself (usually using a finger prick). The downside of at-home testing is that it is not always a very accurate method. Additionally, your doctor is unlikely to accept these test results to make a diagnosis. You should always see a healthcare provider to interpret test results rather than attempting to self-diagnose or self-treat.

Final Thoughts

If you think you may have a thyroid disorder, it is important to be proactive and find out what’s going on. Seek professional medical attention so that you can pinpoint the cause of your symptoms and find relief through proper treatment and diagnosis.

Lab Testing - Frequently Asked Questions

Why is it important to do lab tests occasionally?

It is important to do lab tests occasionally because they can provide valuable information about an individual's health and help to identify potential health issues early on. Lab tests can measure a wide range of factors, including blood count, cholesterol levels, liver and kidney function, and hormone levels, and can provide insight into an individual's overall health and wellness. Additionally, lab tests can help to diagnose and monitor the progression of certain medical conditions, such as diabetes and heart disease, and can help to identify any potential health risks or concerns. By doing lab tests occasionally, individuals can take proactive steps to maintain their health and wellbeing and reduce the risk of potential health problems in the future.

How accurate are lab tests?

Overall, lab tests are generally considered to be accurate and reliable, but there is always a chance of error and it is important to consult with a healthcare professional to interpret the results.

How is a blood sample collected for lab testing?

A blood sample for lab testing is typically collected through a process called venipuncture, which involves inserting a small needle into a vein to draw blood. This is usually done on the inside of the elbow or the back of the hand.

What does a routine blood test cover?

A routine blood test is used to check for a range of things, including your blood count and the levels of certain chemicals and substances in your blood. Blood tests can also be used to check how well certain organs, such as your liver and kidneys, are functioning.

What does routine lab work cover?

Routine lab work typically includes a blood test, which is used to check for a range of things, including your blood count and the levels of certain chemicals and substances in your blood. In addition to a blood test, routine lab work may also include other tests, such as urine and stool tests, which can help diagnose and monitor conditions related to the kidneys, liver, and digestive system. 

Can a blood test identify cancer?

In some cases, cancer can be detected with a blood test. However, not all cancers can be detected with a blood test, and some blood tests can produce false-positive or false-negative results. 

Can a blood test find other particular issues like problems with the heart, liver, or kidneys?

Yes, a blood test can sometimes be used to detect heart, liver, and kidney problems. Blood tests can also be used to measure the levels of certain substances in your blood, such as cholesterol and glucose, which can help diagnose and monitor conditions such as heart disease and diabetes. In addition, a blood test can check your blood count, which can provide information about the health of your red blood cells, white blood cells, and platelets. However, it is important to note that a blood test is not always able to detect heart, liver, and kidney problems, and other tests, such as imaging scans or biopsies, may be needed to confirm a diagnosis.

What distinguishes a diagnostic test from a screening test?

A screening test is a type of test that is used to identify people who may be at increased risk of a particular condition, such as cancer or heart disease. In contrast, a diagnostic test is a type of test that is used to confirm or rule out a suspected diagnosis. So, the main difference between a screening test and a diagnostic test is the purpose for which the test is being performed.

Why do lab tests occasionally need to be repeated?

One common reason is that the initial test results were inconclusive or unclear, and repeating the test can help provide more accurate results. Lab tests may also be repeated if the initial results were abnormal and more information is needed to diagnose or monitor a condition. In addition, some lab tests are designed to be repeated on a regular basis, such as to monitor the effectiveness of a treatment or to check for any changes in a person's health over time. Finally, lab tests may be repeated if the initial test was performed incorrectly, or if there was some other problem with the sample that was collected.

Does having normal lab test results indicate I shouldn't worry about anything?

Having normal lab test results does not necessarily mean that you have nothing to worry about. Additionally, lab tests are not always able to detect all health conditions, and some conditions may not produce abnormal test results until they have progressed to a more advanced stage. 

What should I do after I have my lab test results?

After you have your lab test results, it is always best to discuss them with your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider will be able to interpret the results in the context of your overall health and medical history, and they will be able to recommend any necessary follow-up tests or treatments.

What is the cost of a lab test?

In general, the cost of a lab test can range from a few dollars to several hundred dollars. It is always best to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider to get an accurate estimate of the cost of a lab test.

How is a blood sample for a lab test collected?

A blood sample for a lab test is typically collected through a process called venipuncture. This involves using a needle and syringe to draw blood from a vein, typically in the arm. The skin is cleaned with an antiseptic solution and a tourniquet is placed around the upper arm to help make the veins more visible. The healthcare provider performing the venipuncture will then insert the needle into a vein and collect the required amount of blood. The blood sample is then sent to a laboratory for testing.

Should I do anything to prepare for lab tests?

It is generally a good idea to speak with your doctor or healthcare provider to determine what, if any, preparations are necessary for your lab tests. In general, it is a good idea to follow any instructions provided by your healthcare provider, such as fasting for a certain amount of time before the test or avoiding certain medications. It is also a good idea to bring a list of all medications you are currently taking to your lab appointment.

Why is it necessary to fast before some tests?

Fasting before certain lab tests is often necessary because certain substances in the blood, such as glucose and certain fats, can affect the results of the test. By fasting, you are allowing your body to metabolize these substances, which can provide more accurate test results. Additionally, some tests require that you fast in order to properly prepare your body for the test.

Will a cup of coffee before my lab test mess with the results?

Whether or not you can have a cup of coffee before your test will depend on the specific test that you are undergoing and any instructions provided by your healthcare provider. If you are unsure about whether or not you can have a cup of coffee before your test, it is always best to ask your healthcare provider for advice.

Can my lab test get affected by diet or medications?

Yes, your diet and medications can affect the results of your lab tests. 

What do the lab test results mean?

The specific meaning of your lab test results will depend on the specific test that was performed and the reference range provided by the laboratory. The reference range is the range of values that is considered normal for a healthy person, and it is used to interpret the results of your lab test. If your test results fall within the reference range, it generally means that there is nothing unusual or concerning about your test results. However, if your test results are outside of the reference range, it may indicate a potential health concern that should be discussed with your healthcare provider.

Where are the reference (normal) ranges for lab tests?

The reference ranges for lab tests, also known as normal ranges, are determined by the laboratory that performs the test. These ranges are based on a large number of test results from healthy individuals, and they are used to interpret the results of your lab test. The reference range for each test is typically provided on the laboratory report along with your test results.

What if my lab test result is outside the reference range?

If your lab test result is outside of the reference range, it may indicate a potential health concern that should be discussed with your healthcare provider. Additionally, the reference range is just a general guide, and there may be other factors that can affect your test results.

How can I improve my lab test results?

There are several steps you can take to improve your lab test results. First, it is important to follow any instructions provided by your healthcare provider when preparing for a lab test, such as fasting for a certain amount of time before the test or avoiding certain medications. Additionally, maintaining a healthy lifestyle can help improve your lab test results. This includes eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, and not smoking. If you have a chronic health condition, such as diabetes or high blood pressure, it is important to manage it properly and follow your healthcare provider's recommendations for treatment.

Does having abnormal lab test results indicate that I have a health issue?

Having abnormal lab test results does not necessarily mean that you have a health issue. There are many factors that can affect the accuracy of lab test results, such as your diet, medications, and other medical conditions. Additionally, the reference range used to interpret your test results is just a general guide, and there may be other factors that can affect your test results.

Schedule your at Home Thyroid Test in with Driphydration

Drip Hydration is a prominent medical company that provides thyroid testing in the comfort of your own home. It's a great method to avoid visiting the doctor's office while still determining if your thyroid is releasing the necessary quantity of hormones your body requires to function properly. Drip Hydration appointments may be scheduled over the phone or online, and it is a handy alternative to regular medical therapy.

It's easy to make an appointment, and once you do, a medical professional from our team will visit your home to collect samples for testing. The samples are brought to our laboratory, where we inspect, evaluate, and advise you on what to do next. You may obtain a thyroid blood test straight away by arranging an appointment with Drip Hydration right away!

References

[1] Pirahanchi Y. - Physiology, Thyroid Stimulating Hormone.;