Thyroid Problems in Women and Children: Self-Help and Treatment

Overview

The thyroid is one of the most important parts of the body, regulating metabolism and organ function. Thyroid disorder can manifest as hypothyroidism (too little activity) or hyperthyroidism (too much activity). Symptoms can range from mild to serious, but thyroid problems are 90 percent curable if detected. This complete, up-to-date book covers every aspect of both conditions, incorporating case studies and including special chapters for pregnant women, babies, children, adolescents, and women over 50. Another ...
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Thyroid Problems in Women and Children: Self-Help and Treatment

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Overview

The thyroid is one of the most important parts of the body, regulating metabolism and organ function. Thyroid disorder can manifest as hypothyroidism (too little activity) or hyperthyroidism (too much activity). Symptoms can range from mild to serious, but thyroid problems are 90 percent curable if detected. This complete, up-to-date book covers every aspect of both conditions, incorporating case studies and including special chapters for pregnant women, babies, children, adolescents, and women over 50. Another chapter discusses vitamins, the role of iodine, how diet affects the thyroid, and the role of stress.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780897933865
  • Publisher: Turner Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 5/15/2003
  • Pages: 200
  • Product dimensions: 5.76 (w) x 8.60 (h) x 0.76 (d)

Read an Excerpt

Thyroid Problems IN WOMEN AND CHILDREN

Self-Help and Treatment
By Joan Gomez

Hunter House Inc., Publishers

Copyright © 2003 Dr. Joan Gomez
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-0-89793-385-8


Chapter One

What Your Thyroid Does for You

What is so special about your thyroid? In fact, it could not have a more important role. It is in charge of running every part of your body, including how you feel emotionally. As you can imagine, if it goes wrong you are affected all over, whatever your age, sex, or race. Yet it is a seemingly insignificant slip of tissue, weighing about an ounce (30 grams). It fits so neatly into the space around the lower part of your voice box-your larynx-that you wouldn't know it was there unless you knew how to find it.

To locate your thyroid, look in a mirror and swallow. You will see your larynx move up and down at the front of your neck. Lean your head forward and feel each side of your larynx with your fingers and thumb. You can just detect a little bit of soft tissue closely attached to the sides of the larynx, making them feel less hard than the front part. This is your thyroid. Its name dates from the seventeenth century and comes from the Greek word for shield-after the shape of a Minoan battle shield.

The thyroid controls the body by producing hormones. The word hormone comes from the Greek word for stimulator, which is exactly what the thyroid hormones are. These chemical messengers boost activity all over the body. They travel in the bloodstream. Since every single part of the body must have its nourishment supplied through the blood for survival, it follows that hormones are also conveyed to every body part. The thyroid is small, but it is so busy and important that it has a wonderfully generous blood supply. Five times its own weight of blood goes through the gland every minute.

Not every organ or tissue needs a particular hormone in the same amount all the time, so a system is in place that is rather like leaving a note out for the milkman. The parts that require more hormones open up more receptors, which latch on to the hormones. Fewer receptors are opened up when less hormone is required. Thus, the right quantity is supplied to the right place at the right time.

The next several sections describe the various mechanisms through which the thyroid and its hormones influence your health and everyday functioning.

METABOLISM

The essential work of the body is called metabolism, from the Greek word for change. Metabolism involves taking in adequate amounts of food and processing it to provide energy to keep the heart, breathing, and digestion going; to fuel the muscles as and when needed; and to keep the brain running. It involves repair and replacement of tissues on a regular schedule, and the disposal of waste. Another metabolic task is the conversion of alcohol and medicines into a form in which the body can get rid of them. Imagine the chaos that would ensue if every cocktail or every aspirin you swallowed remained unprocessed in your body.

One of the thyroid's most important jobs is to monitor and control your metabolic rate-the rate at which your body uses its fuel reserves. If there are heavy calls on your fuel reserves from your muscles because you are playing tennis or doing a spring cleaning, or from your digestive system because there is a big meal waiting to be dealt with, your metabolic rate accelerates. The orders for an increase in metabolism come via the thyroid.

Incidentally, a meal that is high in protein is hard work to digest; it therefore stimulates the metabolic reaction much more than a fatty meal. That is why weight-loss diets used to feature steak prominently, in the hope of inducing the metabolism to burn away unwanted flesh faster. The Russian diet, except for that eaten by the wealthy, contains a lot of oil and hardly any meat. This encourages the bulky figures we used to see in Red Square on television.

Several factors affect the metabolic rate; the remainder of this section describes some of them.

Basal Metabolic Rate

If you are doing nothing more energetic than, say, reading this book, your bodily functions will be just ticking along. In such circumstances, your metabolic rate will sink to its basic minimum-the basal metabolic rate, or BMR-under the guidance of the thyroid. The BMR remains high throughout childhood, when the body is undergoing active growth and making new tissues, and in pregnancy, another building period. It also stays high during breast-feeding. Thyroid hormone is particularly involved in the manufacture of body protein, especially muscle tissue, either your own or an unborn baby's, or for milk production. The BMR settles down in ordinary adult life and middle age, but it decreases once you enter the contemplative phase of old age.

Geographical Climate

If you move to a colder climate, your BMR will rev up by as much as 50 percent after a few weeks, again under the direction of the thyroid. This happens because you have to burn bodily fuel faster to produce more warmth. Such vital internal organs as the liver and kidneys cannot work properly unless they maintain a normal temperature, regardless of the temperature of the hands and feet. People who live in the Arctic regions run at a consistently higher BMR, by 15 to 20 percent, than those of us in, say, London or New York. A small adjustment in the metabolic rate occurs between winter and summer even in temperate climates, and you will notice the instinct to take in bigger supplies of food in a cold snap. (A special tissue called brown fat is especially useful for producing heat. It is concentrated along the back. Babies, and to a lesser extent young men, have plenty of this material. The fat of the middle-aged has no such useful, warming function, but remains inert, padding the figure.)

If you live at or travel to high altitudes, the thyroid increases metabolic activity due to the reduced concentration of oxygen in the atmosphere. Serious mountaineers must acclimatize themselves before tackling the highest peaks. Exposure to long sunlit days also stimulates extra thyroid-hormone production and increased metabolism, although hot weather has the opposite effect.

Eating and Appetite

Another useful maneuver of the thyroid is the adjustment of both basic and short-term rates of metabolism in response to how much a person eats, though it doesn't respond to actual body weight. If you persistently take in more food than your body needs, the thyroid will help to dispose of the surplus by having it burn up more rapidly. This automatically makes you feel warmer, whatever the temperature. You can see this mechanism in action next time you go to a restaurant. You are sure to spot one or two hearty eaters looking hot and flushed; they are burning fuel fast.

By contrast, if you are on short rations-whether by choice because you are dieting or because the food is unavailable-your thyroid will eke out the body's needed sustenance from the available food supply by slowing down the metabolism. This is what happens in anorexia nervosa. A low metabolic rate makes a person feel deadly cold, and if it continues for long her health suffers.

Appetite is influenced by the thyroid, which nudges it toward what the body really needs. Since you are a free agent, you can, of course, override this sensible guidance. If you have been off your food because of a cold or an upset stomach, as you recover you find yourself craving simple, easy-to-digest, nourishing foods until you are back to normal. Often the thyroid dampens the appetite during the working week to compensate for a little indulgence on the weekend.

Unfortunately, the influence of the thyroid on appetite and metabolic rate depends not on how fat or thin you are, but on whether you are taking in more-or less-than you can use, particularly in comparison with what you have previously eaten. An overweight person who is trying to lose weight by eating very little will have a slow metabolic rate, so that he or she is burning the food reserves only very slowly-the reverse of what is wanted. At the same time, to make matters worse, the appetite will be pressing for more!

You may have noticed that men in general have bigger appetites than women. This is because they have a higher BMR. Young men and small babies have brown fat, which produces more energy than any other tissue and lights up like a lamp in response to excess food or cold. Men also have a brisker burning-off reaction than women if they overeat or when they exercise.

Another way the thyroid helps the body is by turning down the metabolism and reducing appetite during certain illnesses. This releases the body from the tasks of digestion, so that all its energies can go toward repair and recovery.

LOOKS

Not only are a person's metabolism and weight affected by the thyroid, it also has some influence on one's general appearance: the glossiness and luxuriousness, or otherwise, of one's hair; whether the skin is thick or delicate, dry or moist; and to some extent the shape of the face and hands. More important with regard to how other people see you is your vitality-the physical and mental energy that shines through all you do. The thyroid plays a role in both aspects, appearance and vitality.

OTHER BODILY FUNCTIONS

The thyroid acts as a long-term pacemaker for heartbeat, breathing, and other regular bodily functions such as bowel action and menstrual periods. The timing of these may all be modified by circumstances-that is, the heart rate speeds up with excitement or physical exertion, the bowels move faster on a high-fiber diet-but the underlying rates and rhythms are set by the thyroid. The action of the thyroid also causes your heart rate and breathing to soon settle back to "normal" (whatever that means for you in particular) when you sit down after running for a bus, for example.

Muscular efficiency, for sports or work, depends on the right amount of thyroid hormone: too little and your muscles are stiff and slow to move; too much and you feel exhausted after achieving very little. Various rheumatic and joint problems are associated with thyroid disorder.

Nowadays we are constantly warned about the dangers of too high a level of cholesterol in the blood. It increases the risks of heart attack and stroke, especially for men. One of the tasks of thyroid hormone is to keep the cholesterol level in check-but this is a vain attempt in the seriously overweight.

MENTAL AND EMOTIONAL BALANCE

Health is usually considered from the physical aspect, but you are more than just a body. The essential you lies in your mind and personality. Your confidence and drive, your mental energy, depends on an adequate supply of thyroid hormone. If thyroid-hormone levels are normal, you will be alert but not on edge, and your concentration will be sharp and focused. You will be able to express yourself without difficulty and solve day-to-day problems, in the absence of illness or a major disaster.

More importantly for a happy life, if your thyroid is in balance, so too will be your judgement. You will neither panic over trivia nor sink into helpless despair at the first setback. You will steer between unrealistic optimism and the propensity to see only the black side. Sexual feeling-libido-and ordinary friendliness also both depend in part on the thyroid.

BIOLOGICAL TIMEKEEPING

A properly working thyroid is of crucial importance during the developmental stages. It is the thyroid that "tells" each body part at the appropriate time when and how to grow, in accordance with the genetic blueprint provided by the parents. The unborn baby's thyroid goes into hormone production from about the third month of gestation, but the baby still requires a supply of the hormone from his or her mother.

Birth is a dramatic event from any viewpoint, including that of the thyroid. As soon as the umbilical cord is cut, the baby's thyroid springs into action, flooding the bloodstream with hormones. This very high level reaches a peak about the second day after birth, and continues for six to eight weeks. Growth and development run the metabolism at its maximum. It is because of the high metabolic rate induced by the thyroid, and the presence of brown fat, that tiny babies survive under circumstances that would cause adults to perish. Babies buried under rubble in the 1985 Mexican earthquake lived without warmth or nourishment for days after rescuers were abandoning hope of finding anyone alive. Premature babies, however, lack this remarkable thyroid reaction to coming into the cold world. They must live in an incubator until their thyroid is sufficiently mature.

Throughout childhood the thyroid plays an important role in growth and development, particularly of the bones and teeth, and of the brain and nervous system. A child's height and the timing of her or his first and second sets of teeth are of interest, but not of such vital importance as mental and emotional development. For children, this includes behavior, bathroom training, and how they do in school, both intellectually and socially. An underactive thyroid is far more damaging than an overactive one. To anticipate any of these problems, today all babies born in the West have their thyroid function checked at birth.

Problems arising later are less serious, and once recognized can be treated effectively. At puberty, the thyroid is again actively involved in the changes that occur in turning a child into a man or woman. If a human adolescent is short of thyroid hormone, at seventeen he or she will look like a ten-year-old-short and childlike, with underdeveloped sexual organs. The secondary characteristics will be delayed, too-breast development and menstruation for girls, change of voice and facial hair for boys.

WOMEN AND THE THYROID

The creation of the next generation depends on healthy thyroid glands in today's adults, especially the females. If the thyroid is either overactive or underactive, fertility plummets in either sex. In general, however, thyroid problems affect women much more often than men because estrogen, the female sex hormone, makes women more responsive to the fluctuating effects of thyroid hormone than men. Alternatively, men's sex hormones-the androgens-have the opposite effect.

The ever-running female cycle of preparation in case of conception, followed by the menstrual period; the miracle of pregnancy and later of making milk; and the dramatic sign-off at menopause are essential female concerns. Each of these female conditions requires the correct thyroid input.

A woman's emotional system is also more susceptible to upset than a man's. Even minor thyroid disorders can bring on depression or a state of anxiety in a woman, while men are affected only by serious thyroid dysfunction. There are two stages in a woman's life when she is particularly vulnerable to fluctuations in thyroid-hormone levels, and especially to their effect on emotions: after giving birth and at menopause. At each of these times a sharp falloff occurs in the production of the female sex hormone, because of reduced need. At the same time, a small reduction takes place in the need for thyroid hormone. If thyroid-hormone production temporarily drops off too much, a new mother may be depressed and low in energy. The same is true with a menopausal woman. By contrast, if the thyroid keeps operating normally, without much of a dip in its output of hormone, the mother will be less likely to experience postpartum depression, and the fifty-year-old less likely to endure the discomforts of hot flashes, low moods, and weight gain. (However, it should be noted that probably more women blame their thyroid for middle-age spread than is truly justified.)

OTHER STRESSES

The thyroid interacts with the two stress hormones: cortisol, the body's own steroid, and adrenaline, the emergency hormone. Thyroid activity goes down when cortisol is called into play, but it enhances the action of adrenaline. Thyroid hormone is also increased in response to the stress of taking an exam or during a surgical operation; this occurs because the metabolism of most tissues (except in the brain) is increased at such times.

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Thyroid Problems IN WOMEN AND CHILDREN by Joan Gomez Copyright © 2003 by Dr. Joan Gomez. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Table of Contents

Contents

Introduction....................1
Chapter 1: What Your Thyroid Does for You....................5
Metabolism....................6
Looks....................9
Other Bodily Functions....................10
Mental and Emotional Balance....................10
Biological Timekeeping....................11
Women and the Thyroid....................12
Other Stresses....................13
What Are the Thyroid Hormones?....................13
How Does the Thyroid Know How Much Hormone to Make?....................14
One More Hormone....................15
Thyroid Disease in the United States....................16
Chapter 2: Enlarged Thyroid....................18
Normal, Physiological Goiter....................19
Simple Goiter....................20
Multinodular Goiter....................21
Nodular Goiter....................22
What to Do about Multinodular and Nodular Thyroid....................23
Endemic or Iodine-Deficiency Goiter....................25
Autoimmune Disorders....................31
Tumors of the Thyroid....................33
Chapter 3: Underactive Thyroid....................35
Symptoms....................37
What to Do if You Suspect You Have an Underactive Thyroid....................46
Causes of an Underactive Thyroid....................47
Secondary Hypothyroidism....................52
Treatment of an Underactive Thyroid....................53
Subclinical Hypothyroidism....................54
Chapter 4: Overactive Thyroid....................59
Symptoms....................60
What to Do if You Suspect You Have an Overactive Thyroid....................64
Causes of anOveractive Thyroid....................65
Graves' Disease....................66
Toxic Multinodular Goiter....................74
Toxic Nodule....................76
Hashitoxicosis....................77
De Quervain's Thyroiditis....................77
An Excess of Iodine....................78
An Excess of Thyroid Hormone Taken by Mouth....................80
Disorders of the Pituitary Gland....................80
Cancer....................81
Chapter 5: Thyroid Issues Affecting Fertility and Pregnancy....................82
Fertility....................83
How the Thyroid Functions During Pregnancy....................84
Goiter....................87
Underactive Thyroid....................87
Overactive Thyroid....................88
After the Birth (Postpartum)....................91
Thyroid Disorders and Birth Defects....................94
Chapter 6: Thyroid Problems in Babies Before and After Birth....................96
In Utero....................96
A Shortage of Thyroid Hormone....................99
An Excess of Thyroid Hormone....................107
Chapter 7: Thyroid Concerns in Children and Adolescents....................111
Underactive Thyroid in Children....................112
Overactive Thyroid in Children....................117
Thyroid Cancer....................122
Adolescents....................122
Chapter 8: Thyroid Issues in Women over Fifty....................127
Medicines That May Affect Thyroid Tests....................129
Underactive Thyroid....................130
Overactive Thyroid....................135
Cancer....................139
Other Illnesses....................140
Chapter 9: The Other Thyroid Hormone....................142
Paget's Disease....................143
Too Much Calcium in the Blood (Hypercalcemia)....................143
Osteoporosis....................144
Too Little Calcium in the Blood (Hypocalcemia)....................145
Chapter 10: Keeping Your Thyroid Happy....................147
Iodine....................148
Vitamins....................149
Clean Water....................151
Diets That Upset the Thyroid....................151
Medicines That Can Cause Problems....................155
Your Genes....................158
Stress....................159
Thyroid Illness on Top of Physical Illness....................163
A Note for Dieters: How to Play It Right....................165
Chapter 11: Tests and Treatments....................167
Standard Thyroid Tests....................168
Screening Tests....................169
Treatment for an Underactive Thyroid....................177
Treatment for an Overactive Thyroid....................180
Treatment of Thyroid Cancer....................189
Treatment of Goiter....................189
Treatment of Eye Problems....................191
General Treatment for Thyroid Sufferers....................192
Resources....................194
Index....................196
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