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June 01, 2019

Thyroid gland problems: The turtle or the hare

The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the neck that produces hormones vital to several of the body’s functions. When it is working properly, it secretes only the amount of hormones the body needs. However, it can start secreting too large a quantity of hormones or inversely, slow down production, providing the body with an insufficient quantity of hormones.

Why is the thyroid so important?

The thyroid produces chemical substances called thyroid hormones that stimulate or inhibit the function of certain organs.

Thyroid hormones play several key roles, namely in:

  • digestion
  • muscle function
  • body temperature regulation
  • heart function
  • skin hydration
  • brain function

The thyroid stores the hormones it produces and releases them according to the body’s needs.

Hyperthyroidism: Too fast!

Sometimes, the thyroid becomes hyperactive and produces too much hormones. This is called hyperthyroidism. Around 1 in 100 Canadians, mainly women, develop this problem. Hyperthyroidism causes antibodies to form, stimulating the thyroid to produce an excessive quantity of thyroid hormones.

Since thyroid hormones affect several of the body’s functions, people with hyperthyroidism can experience a number of the following symptoms:

  • Nervousness and irritability
  • Insomnia
  • Heart palpitations or irregular heartbeat
  • Diarrhea
  • Weight loss despite normal or increased appetite
  • Trembling
  • Difficulty tolerating heat
  • Eye changes (protruding eyes, red and watery eyes, swollen eyelids)

The treatment for hyperthyroidism involves bringing hormone production back down to normal levels, since the accelerated functions significantly stress the body.

There are several possible approaches, including:

  • blocking thyroid hormone production with antithyroid medication, and
  • destroying (with radioactive iodine) or removing (surgically) part of the thyroid or the entire gland.

However, these treatments may cause hypothyroidism. If you are prescribed medication to treat hyperthyroidism, be sure to take it regularly, according to your pharmacist’s instructions.

Hypothyroidism: Too slow!

The most frequent cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s disease, which destroys the thyroid cells responsible for hormone production. It affects 2 in 100 Canadians, mainly women.

The lack of thyroid hormones cause certain body functions to slow down, producing a variety of the following symptoms:  

  • Fatigue, lack of energy or weakness
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Dry skin
  • Pale complexion
  • Weight gain
  • Intolerance to cold
  • Constipation
  • Hair and eyebrow hair loss
  • Irregular menstruation

Since these symptoms are not very specific and could be caused by a number of other health problems, doctors use blood tests to check thyroid-hormone levels in the blood, to confirm or rule out hypothyroidism.

Treatment for hypothyroidism involves compensating the lack of natural thyroid hormones with replacement hormones. The dose of hormones is adjusted to the person’s needs. Regular blood tests are performed to ensure that there are adequate hormone levels in the blood. Typically, once the hormone levels return to normal, the symptoms listed above disappear over the subsequent weeks. People with hypothyroidism need treatment for the rest of their lives.

It is important to take replacement hormones regularly, at the same time each day. It is preferable to take them on an empty stomach, as certain foods can interfere with their absorption.

Check with your pharmacist before taking over-the-counter medications, multivitamins or natural health products, as replacement thyroid hormones interact with calcium, iron and certain medications, namely antacids.

Don’t hesitate to consult your pharmacist if you have any questions about thyroid problems or their treatment. Your pharmacy team is always happy to help!

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The Website deals with health-related topics. The information presented has been validated by experts and is accurate at the time of posting. In no way does it replace the opinion of a health care professional. Uniprix Inc. and its affiliated pharmacists accept no liability whatsoever in connection with the information provided on this Website.