Were you recently diagnosed with hypothyroidism? If so, you’re likely aware your body’s thyroid gland is underactive. And you’re probably all too familiar with some of the associated symptoms like tiredness, constipation, and forgetfulness. These symptoms are frustrating. But with the right treatment plan, they can become manageable.
What is hypothyroidism? In short, your thyroid gland can’t make enough hormones to function well. The thyroid gland controls every aspect of your body’s metabolism. In hypothyroidism, the gland’s hormone production slows. This, in turn, slows your metabolism, which can lead to weight gain. Hypothyroidism is common, and affects about 4.6 percent of the U.S. population.
According to the American Thyroid Association, there’s no cure for hypothyroidism. However, there are medications that can treat the disease. The goal of the medication is to improve your body’s thyroid function, restore hormone levels, and allow you to live a normal life.
Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. With this condition, your body attacks its own immune system. Over time, this attack causes the thyroid to stop producing hormones as it should which leads to hypothyroidism. Like many autoimmune diseases, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis occurs more frequently in women than men.
As its name suggests, hyperthyroidism occurs when your body makes too much of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), and becomes overactive. If you have hyperthyroidism, you may experience a fast heartbeat, increased appetite, anxiety, sensitivity to heat, or sudden weight loss.
Hyperthyroidism most commonly occurs in three ways:
- thyroiditis, or an inflammation of the thyroid
- a thyroid nodule that produces too much T4 hormone
- an autoimmune condition known as Graves’ disease
In hyperthyroidism, an irritation of your thyroid known as thyroiditis allows too much thyroid hormone to enter your blood. This can lead to pain and discomfort. Thyroiditis can also occur as the result of pregnancy. This is usually short-term.
Thyroid nodules are common in both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism. More often than not, these nodules are benign. In hyperthyroidism, these nodules can lead to an increase in your thyroid’s size or produce too much T4 thyroid hormone. Doctors don’t always know why this happens.
Graves’ disease causes the body to attack itself. This attack allows the thyroid gland to produce too much thyroid hormone. This autoimmune disease is often the underlying cause of hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease causes your thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone.
Medications, radioactive iodine, or surgery are treatment options of hyperthyroidism. If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can cause bone loss or an irregular heartbeat. Both Hashimoto’s thyroiditis and Graves’ disease can run in families.
The Differences Between Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism
Hypothyroidism causes symptoms like slowed metabolism, tiredness, and weight gain. Having an underactive thyroid can decrease or slow down your bodily functions.
With hyperthyroidism, you may find yourself with more energy, as opposed to less. You may experience weight loss as opposed to weight gain. And you may feel anxious as opposed to depressed.
The most common difference between the two diseases relates to hormone levels. Hypothyroidism leads to a decrease in hormones. Hyperthyroidism leads to an increase in hormone production.
In the United States, hypothyroidism is more common than hyperthyroidism. However, it’s not uncommon to have an overactive thyroid and then an underactive thyroid, or vice versa. Finding a skilled doctor who specializes in the thyroid, typically an endocrinologist, is an important part of your treatment plan.Read more in Hypothyroidism Resources
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Mayo Clinic Staff. (2014, July 1). Graves’ disease. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/graves-disease/basics/definition/con-20025811
Mayo Clinic Staff. (2015, October 28). Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid): Causes. Retrieved from http://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyperthyroidism/basics/causes/con-20020986
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