The thyroid is the largest endocrine gland found within the human body.
Its name derives from the Greek and means “similar to an oblong shield”. It is composed of two distinct endocrine units; the main function of this gland is the secretion of thyroid hormones, most of which bind to specific proteins while only a small amount travels directly into the blood. The activity carried out makes the thyroid particularly important for numerous biological functions, starting with hormonal balance; for this reason, it is essential that the functioning of the secretion mechanisms does not present anomalies. Unfortunately, the thyroid gland is often subject to disorders (linked to some alteration of the normal functioning of the gland) that can have more or less significant effects on the health of the individual. In this article we see what they are, what consequences they can have on the body and how they are identified.
The most significant disorders that can afflict the thyroid are:
- hyperthyroidism , which is an excessive production of thyroid hormones. This condition generally causes weight loss, insomnia, nervousness, anxiety, mood swings and palpitations. Hyperthyroidism is mainly caused by a condition called Graves’ disease ;
- hypothyroidism , i.e. abnormal or insufficient functioning of the thyroid gland. If so, the symptoms are: weight gain, metabolic dysfunction, fatigue, constipation, hair loss, and slow heart rate. The most frequent cause of this type of condition is an autoimmune disease, “ Hashimoto’s thyroiditis ”;
- nodules ; these are swellings which, in some cases, may be cancerous (no more than 5%, according to the Istituto Superiore di Sanità) but are simple cysts. If there are multiple nodules, a goiter may develop.
As for the pathologies that can affect the thyroid gland, attributable to functional problems, the most frequent are: inflammation ( thyroiditis ), attributable to Hashimoto’s disease and other disorders, neoplasms ( tumor formations , mostly benign) and lack of iodine, to which are added congenital pathologies and thyroid-gastric diseases , that is a condition in which problems of the gastrointestinal system are connected to a thyroid disorder.
Many thyroid disorders can be cured by appropriate drug therapy; what matters, from this point of view, is to identify in a precise and timely manner the origin of the symptoms, so as to be able to prepare the best treatment based on the specific needs of each client.
The main diagnostic tool for identifying and evaluating endocrine system pathologies and thyroid dysfunctions is the endocrinological examination . It is a medical consultation, carried out by a specialist (the endocrinologist); this service can be provided by a structure of the National Health Service, upon the prescription of the attending physician. Alternatively, the patient can go to a private clinic, booking the visit directly through the laboratory portal, such as ionoforetica.it . In this case, the referral may not be necessary but still advisable.
In practice, the endocrinological visit is short, painless and non-invasive. After taking the medical history, the doctor proceeds to palpate the area where the thyroid is located (not visible but palpable) and may ask the patient to swallow. In this way, the endocrinologist can identify the presence of any abnormal masses and evaluate the size of the gland. The visit also includes examining and identifying other ‘secondary’ symptoms, such as weight gain, hair loss or other manifestations of possible thyroid dysfunction. The endocrinological examination may be followed by other tests, such as blood tests or thyroid function tests; in some cases, the specialist doctor may also arrange for a thyroid ultrasound to be performed.