August 5, 2019

Thyroid 101: The Lowdown on Its Purpose, Problems and Prevention

woman thinking

Brian Ware, DO, an osteopathic family physician with Mission Family Medicine – Old Fort, refers to the thyroid, a small gland at the base of the neck, as the body’s thermostat. “It determines metabolism — how much energy you burn, how energetic you feel and your weight,” he said.

Hormones Levels Are Everything

The brain produces thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and gauges the thyroid’s needs, but when thyroid function goes awry, two things can happen. “An underperforming thyroid leads to hypothyroidism, while overactivity leads to hyperthyroidism,” said Dr. Ware. Both maladies affect women more often than men.

Know the Signs of Problems

“Hypothyroidism’s primary cause is Hashimoto’s disease,” said Dr. Ware, “an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid. Symptoms are weight gain, coldness, fatigue, dry skin, muscle aches and, for women, irregular menstrual cycles.”

Thyroid hormone overproduction causes hyperthyroidism. Weight loss, feeling hot and sweaty, diarrhea and heart palpitations accompany the condition. “Anxiety and insomnia are also symptoms, and some notice eye swelling. Unlike hypothyroidism, an overactive thyroid has multiple causes, including Graves’ disease — another autoimmune disorder, or a tumor,” said Dr. Ware.

Treatments Are Available

Hypothyroidism will require lifelong thyroid hormone replacement called levothyroxine, and this condition is commonly diagnosed, treated and monitored by primary care physicians.

Hyperthyroidism patients may be advised to see an endocrinologist to receive lab tests and possibly an ultrasound to determine the cause. Dr. Ware added that treatment options include medications or radioactive iodine ablation therapy. “These treatments destroy thyroid gland tissue, and these patients will have their thyroid function monitored closely to ensure proper treatment,” said Dr. Ware. “If a tumor is found to be the cause, it can be surgically excised.”

Can Thyroid Problems Be Avoided?

Dr. Ware is often asked about preventive thyroid health practices. Unfortunately, these conditions are not typically preventable. Outside of the US, iodine deficiency is the leading cause of hypothyroidism. In the US, thyroid problems are often caused through genetic inheritance.

“Primary care physicians diagnose thyroid problems most often, so patients should consult with their doctor if they notice energy or weight changes,” said Dr. Ware.

Brian Ware, DO, is an osteopathic family physician with Mission Family Medicine – Old Fort.

An early relationship with a primary care physician allows you to focus on prevention and health. Learn more about primary care at