Q. What are the symptoms of thyroid problems? Can they be found in a regular blood test? Is there a cure?
A. There are different kinds of thyroid problems. A person can have an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), where the gland produces too little hormone. Common symptoms include feeling tired, weight gain, constipation, dry skin, and brittle nails. Hyperthyroidism is an over-production of hormone, and can result in symptoms of weight loss, irritability, and irregular heartbeats. Either situation can be corrected and the diagnosis is made by a simple blood test measuring the thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
Hyperthyroidism can be treated surgically by removing the thyroid, burning it away with radioactive iodine, or using medications that enable the thyroid gland to ignore the stimulating signal. Hypothyroidism is treated with supplemental hormone, which, once begun, is usually continued indefinitely. By age 60, 17 percent of women and 9 percent of men have an underactive thyroid. Once the diagnosis is made, treatment is easy with a once-a-day medication, and patients feel much better once their amount of thyroid hormone is normal.
Thyroid cancer is a relatively rare condition. Diagnosis is done by a needle aspiration biopsy. Treatment is surgical removal and has a high success rate.