Sometimes, thyroid disease can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are easily confused with those of other conditions. Patients may experience similar symptoms when pregnant or aging, and certainly when developing a thyroid disease. Fortunately, there are tests that can help determine if symptoms are truly being caused by a thyroid issue. These tests include:
- Blood tests
- Imaging tests
- Physical exams
One of the most definitive ways to diagnose a thyroid problem is through blood tests. Thyroid blood tests are used to tell if the thyroid gland is functioning properly by measuring the amount of thyroid hormones in a patient's blood. These tests are done by taking blood from an arm vein. Thyroid blood tests can usually detect any of the following conditions associates with hyper- or hypothyroidism:
- Graves' disease
- Hashimoto's disease
- Thyroid nodule(s)
- Thyroid cancer
In many cases, taking a look at the thyroid itself can answer a lot of questions. A healthcare provider might do an imaging test called a thyroid scan. This allows the provider to look at the thyroid to check for an increased size, shape or growths (nodules). A provider could also use an imaging test called an ultrasound. This is a diagnostic procedure that transmits high-frequency sound waves, inaudible to the human ear, through body tissues. The echoes are recorded and transformed into video or photographic images. Ultrasounds are commonly related to pregnancy but are used to diagnose many different issues within the body. Unlike X-rays, ultrasounds do not use radiation.
Another way to quickly check the thyroid is with a physical exam at a healthcare provider's office. This is a very simple and painless test where a provider feels the patient's neck for any growths or enlargement of the thyroid.
How is thyroid disease treated?
A healthcare provider's goal is to return thyroid hormone levels to normal. This can be done in a variety of ways and each specific treatment will depend on the cause of the thyroid condition.
If a patient has high levels of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism), treatment options can include:
- Anti-thyroid drugs that stop the thyroid from making hormones.
- Radioactive iodine actually damages thyroid cells in otder to prevent it from making high levels of thyroid hormones.
- Beta blockers don't affect the levels of thyroid hormones, but they do help control symptoms.
- Surgery. If a healthcare provider determines that the thyroid needs to be removed, there are a couple of ways that can be done. The thyroid may need to be completely removed or just partially. This will depend on the severity of the patient's condition. If the thyroid is very big (enlarged) or has a lot of growths on it, that could prevent the patient from being eligible for some types of surgery.
For low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), the main treatment option is thyroid replacement medication, a synthetic medication which adds thyroid hormones back into the body. One drug that's commonly used is called levothyroxine. By using a medication, patients can control thyroid disease and live a normal life.
As we wrap up National Thyroid Awareness Month, we hope the information we have shared has helped educate and inform you of the vital role the thyroid gland plays in regulating important bodily functions. Proper thyroid function is imperative to good overall health. However, there are many conditions and diseases (including cancer) that can affect the thyroid and cause a variety of health problems. Thyroid disease is often a life-long medical condition that needs to be constantly managed. If diagnosed with any of the disorders we've discussed, your healthcare provider will determine and monitor the course of treatment that is right for you and make adjustments over time. We can usually live a normal life with a thyroid disease. It may take some time to find the right treatment option to control hormone levels, but once this happens, people with these conditions can usually live life without many restrictions.
If you have any questions about your thyroid or symptoms that may be indicative of a disorder, contact your healthcare provider for a consultation. If you would like to schedule a visit to a Summit Medical Group clinic, visit www.summitmedical.com/locations to find a provider near you, or call 1-865-212-3618 or toll free at 1-500-289-9545.