Thyroid disease is a medical condition that affects the function of the thyroid gland (the endocrine organ found at the front of the neck that produces thyroid hormones). The symptoms of thyroid disease vary depending on the type. There are four general types: 1) hypothyroidism (low function) caused by not having enough thyroid hormones; 2) hyperthyroidism (high function) caused by having too much thyroid hormones; 3) structural abnormalities, most commonly an enlargement of the thyroid gland; and 4) tumors which can be benign or cancerous. It is also possible to have abnormal thyroid function tests without any clinical symptoms. Common hypothyroid symptoms include fatigue, low energy, weight gain, inability to tolerate the cold, slow heart rate, dry skin and constipation. Common hyperthyroid symptoms include irritability, weight loss, fast heartbeat, heat intolerance, diarrhea, and enlargement of the thyroid. In both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, there may be swelling of a part of the neck, which is also known as goiter.
Diagnosis can often be made through laboratory tests. The first is thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which is generally below normal in hyperthyroidism and above normal in hypothyroidism. The other useful laboratory test is non-protein-bound thyroxine or free T4. Total and free triiodothyronine (T3) levels are less commonly used. Anti-thyroid autoantibodies can also be used, where elevated anti-thyroglobulin and anti-thyroid peroxidase antibodies are commonly found in hypothyroidism from Hashimoto's thyroiditis and TSH-receptor antibodies are found in hyperthyroidism caused by Graves' disease. Procedures such as ultrasound, biopsy and a radioiodine scanning and uptake study may also be used to help with the diagnosis.
Treatment of thyroid disease varies based on the disorder. Levothyroxine is the mainstay of treatment for people with hypothyroidism, while people with hyperthyroidism caused by Graves' disease can be managed with iodine therapy, antithyroid medication, or surgical removal of the thyroid gland. Thyroid surgery may also be performed to remove a thyroid nodule or lobe for biopsy, or if there is a goiter that is unsightly or obstructs nearby structures.
Hypothyroidism affects 3-10% percent of adults, with a higher incidence in women and the elderly. An estimated one-third of the world's population currently lives in areas of low dietary iodine levels, making iodine-deficiency the most common cause of hypothyroidism and endemic goiter. In regions of severe iodine deficiency, the prevalence of goiter is as high as 80%. In areas where iodine-deficiency is not found, the most common type of hypothyroidism is an autoimmune subtype called Hashimoto's thyroiditis, with a prevalence of 1-2%. As for hyperthyroidism, Graves' disease, another autoimmune condition, is the most common type with a prevalence of 0.5% in males and 3% in females. Although thyroid nodules are common, thyroid cancer is rare. Thyroid cancer accounts for less than 1% of all cancer in the UK, though it is the most common endocrine tumor and makes up greater than 90% of all cancers of the endocrine glands.