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Thyroid Disease - Causes and Treatment

What is the thyroid?
The thyroid is an organ that is located below your Adam’s apple and is shaped like a butterfly spreading its wings. It measures roughly 4cm long and 4cm wide and weighs 15–20g. Its function is to produce thyroid hormones from iodine, which is contained in foods such as seaweed. The thyroid hormones promote the growth and development of your body, as well as regulate the metabolism of your whole body—they are indeed the source of human vitality.

What are the symptoms of thyroid disease?
Normally, the amount of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream is regulated at a constant level. However, if abnormalities occur in the function of the thyroid, and the amount of the secreted hormones fall too low (as with hypothyroidism, such as that associated with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis) or become too high (as with hyperthyroidism, such as that associated with Graves’ disease), this can cause a variety of symptoms such as those shown in the table.

Swollen neck Palpitations, even while at rest
Fine tremor in your hands and fingers Sensitivity to heat; heavy sweating
Weight loss, even when you are eating sufficiently Irritability and restlessness
Low body temperature and increased sensitivity to cold Dry and rough skin
Feelings of heaviness and sluggishness Weight gain, even with a low appetite
Puffy face and hands upon waking up in the morning Frequent constipation
Sleepiness during the daytime; dozing off easily Slowed and quiet pulse
Menstrual irregularities

Symptoms vary between individuals, and some people become aware of them only after receiving a medical check–up. As thyroid disease does not present any distinguished symptoms, it is also often mistaken for other diseases. Furthermore, in addition to abnormalities in the function of the thyroid, abnormalities relating to the shape of the thyroid can also occur through the formation of tumors.

Thyroid disorders are also characteristic of being common among women, as shown by the fact that women comprise 90% of those affected.

How do you get tested for thyroid disease?
In the case of detecting abnormalities in the function of the thyroid, such as hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, blood tests are principally carried out. Thyroid disease can be diagnosed with 90% accuracy by examining the level of thyroid hormones (FT3, FT4) in the blood, as well as the level of the thyroid–stimulating hormone (TSH), which regulates the secretion of the thyroid hormones, and testing for the presence of special antibodies (TRAb, TgAb, TPOAb, etc.) that cause abnormalities in the thyroid.

Abnormalities in the shape of the thyroid, such as those caused by tumors, are detected using ultrasound exams. In the event that a malignant tumor is suspected, a cytology test is performed wherein a sample of the tumor is taken directly with a needle.

In addition, radioisotope scans are also available for further examination of thyroid activity.

How is thyroid disease treated?
If the thyroid hormones are at an excessive level, such as with Graves’ disease, treatments include the use of oral medication to suppress the secretion of hormones, as well as the removal or reduction of the hormone–producing thyroid itself by surgery or radioisotope therapy.

In the case that the thyroid hormones are deficient, as with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, treatment involves the administration of thyroid hormone medication to compensate for the deficiency.

If a tumor is found, it is important to determine whether it is a benign or a malignant tumor. If it is a benign tumor, you can have regular check–ups and take a “wait–and–see” approach; however, if it seems to be growing larger, you will need to have surgery.

If the tumor turns out to be malignant, that is, cancerous, then surgery again becomes the principal option. However, most thyroid cancers are papillary thyroid cancer, a slow–progressing, “gentle” cancer, and in most cases, they are cured completely with treatment. Additionally, in the case that the cancer has spread to surrounding organs, undergoing internal therapy using radioactive iodine after surgery is effective for preventing its recurrence.

A word from a doctor specializing in thyroid disorders

Thyroid disease is a disease that is common among women. Unfortunately, its causes are unknown, but if it is treated properly, one does not need to worry about facing pregnancy or giving birth. Abnormalities in the thyroid can be diagnosed with 90% accuracy through blood tests and ultrasound, and with treatment, you can live just as normally as any other healthy person.

However, thyroid disease is sometimes mistaken for other diseases. Also, some cases require special skills and equipment, such as with cytology tests and radioisotope scans, and treatment requires much experience.

Therefore, we recommend that you consult facilities specializing in thyroid disorders. At these facilities, test results can be given on the same day as your visit, and you can also choose a method of treatment that would suit you best.

Koichi Ito, Director of Ito Hospital
Third–generation director of Ito Hospital, a hospital specializing in thyroid disorders located in Omotesando, Tokyo. The hospital, established in 1937, provides rapid tests in which results are given within one hour of taking a blood sample from the patient, as well as equipment for radioisotope scans and treatment, of which there are few in the country. Providing complete medical care for thyroid disorders, the hospital attracts more than 300,000 patients with thyroid disorders every year. Also engaging actively in the promotion of medical tourism, the hospital provides not only services in English, but also medical interpretation services in Chinese and Korean. In 2004, Osu Clinic, a branch of the hospital, was established in Nagoya in an effort to provide specialized medical care in the Tokai region also. Director Ito has written many books on thyroid disorders.

Ito Hospital

Medical society of Japan Jia Jin Osu Clinic

Yamashita Thyroid & Parathyroid Clinic

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