Thyroid Diseases

Thyroid diseases happen when the thyroid gland is over- or under-active. The thyroid is a small gland in the neck. It helps control the body's metabolism and growth by the release of hormones. Treatment for many thyroid diseases has been a major pharmaceutical success story.

What are they? Top

The thyroid is a small gland in the neck that regulates the body’s metabolism and growth by the release of a number of hormones. Thyroid diseases fall into two main categories:

• In hyperthyroidism – over-active thyroid – the gland produces too much thyroid hormone causing the body to use more energy. Symptoms include nervousness, irritability, increased perspiration, weight loss, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and an increased heartbeat.

• In hypothyroidism – under-active thyroid – the gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormone. This slows the body’s normal rate of functioning, leading to mental and physical sluggishness.

Most thyroid diseases are caused by the body’s own immune system producing antibodies against the hormones or parts of the gland.

There are also several types of cancer that affect the thyroid gland.

Who gets them? Top

Hyperthyroidism is less common that hypothyroidism. It is more common in women and usually occurs in their thirties and forties.

Hypothyroidism affects approximately 45 million people in Europe. Again, it is more prevalent in women than in men.

Thyroid cancer is relatively rare, but it can occur in all age groups and it can be linked to a family history of the disease.



What can be done about them? Top

Medicines to block the production of thyroid hormones are commonly used to control hyperthyroidism. Other approaches involve surgery to remove the gland, or oral radioactive iodine that causes the gland to shrink.

Treatment of hypothyroidism is straightforward and involves thyroid hormone replacement therapy.

The standard treatment for thyroid cancers is surgical removal of the gland.

What does the future hold? Top

Because successful treatments now exist for the treatment of common thyroid diseases, much of the current research is concentrating on understanding why the immune system forms antibodies against the thyroid gland and how this can be regulated.

A number of therapy options for thyroid cancers are also being investigated. One of these involves correcting certain gene abnormalities that are found in some tumours.