Male doctor doing thyroid check on senior man’s neck

Thyroid Conditions: What You Need to Know

According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, but as many as 60% of those people aren’t aware of their condition. Problems with the thyroid include a variety of conditions that can affect your heart rate, mood, energy levels, metabolism, bone health and more. It’s important to know the basics about thyroid conditions, including potential symptoms to look for, ways to boost your thyroid’s function and what treatment options are available.

Thyroid Basics

According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, but as many as 60 percent of those people aren’t aware of their condition.

Your thyroid is a small gland located in the front of your neck just above your collarbone. It makes the hormones that regulate your body’s metabolism. Since your body’s metabolism is the rate at which your body produces energy, this little gland impacts your heart rate, energy levels, weight, mood and much more. When your thyroid works properly, it maintains the right amount of hormones to keep your metabolism working at the right rate. But when it doesn’t work properly, it can impact many vital functions in your body.

Thyroid Conditions 

Problems with your thyroid include a variety of conditions. The most common conditions occur when the thyroid produces too much or too little thyroid hormone. These are called hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.

  • Hyperthyroidism — If your body makes too much thyroid hormone, you can develop a condition called hyperthyroidism. Symptoms include:
    • Irritability
    • Unexplained weight loss
    • Nervousness or anxiety
    • Vision problems and eye irritation
    • Sleep disturbances
    • Diarrhea
    • Increased sweating
    • Changes in a woman’s period (usually lighter)
  • Hypothyroidism — If your body makes too little thyroid hormone, it’s called hypothyroidism. Symptoms include:
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Depression
    • Forgetfulness
    • Weight gain
    • Feeling cold
    • Constipation
    • Changes in a woman’s period (usually heavier)
    • Hair loss

Other thyroid conditions relate to abnormal growth in the gland and include the following:Female doctor performing thyroid ultrasound test

  • Thyroid nodules —These are benign lumps in the thyroid gland that are common and usually do not cause serious health problems. Symptoms may include:
    • Pressure on the neck
    • Trouble swallowing, breathing or speaking
  • Thyroid cancer — Thyroid cancers are much less common than benign nodules and have similar symptoms including:
    • Swelling in your neck
    • Trouble swallowing or breathing
    • Voice changes including hoarseness
  • Additional conditions include thyroiditis, post-partum thyroiditis and goiters. For more information on these conditions, women can check out this from the Office on Women’s Health. 


To diagnose a thyroid disease, your health care provider will consider your medical history, symptoms and family history. Your provider will do a detailed exam of the thyroid by feeling the size and texture of the gland. After that, your provider may also do a blood test or other diagnostic tests, including imaging tests like an ultrasound.

Treatment Options 

Most thyroid problems can be managed with medical attention. Your treatment depends on many factors such as your age, the type and severity of the disorder and your overall health. Here are some common treatments:

  • Hypothyroidism usually requires a single daily tablet to produce normal thyroid hormone levels.
  • Hyperthyroidism treatment may include antithyroid drugs, radioactive iodine-131 or in rare cases, thyroid surgery.
  • Thyroid cancer is initially treated with thyroid surgery. Follow-up may include iodine-131 and thyroid hormone replacement.
  • Most benign nodules do not require treatment. Patients are usually just advised to do periodic follow-up exams.

Additional Things to Consider  

  • One in eight women will develop a thyroid issue in her lifetime, and it occurs most often after pregnancy and menopause. Thyroid disease can impact a woman’s menstrual cycle, make getting pregnant more difficult and can cause health problems during pregnancy for the mother and baby.

Hispanic man shopping for vegetables

  • Lifestyle changes you make to improve your overall health can also help to improve the function of your thyroid.
    • Eat a diet of whole fresh foods for improved thyroid function. Avoid highly processed foods that can cause inflammation.
    • Incorporate thyroid-supporting foods into your diet such as berries, fresh vegetables and fish high in Omega-3 fatty acids. Dairy products, eggs and seaweed are also helpful. These foods contain iodine, which the thyroid needs to function properly.
    • Consider your body’s reaction to gluten. Many people who have thyroid issues have gluten sensitivities, so you can try to limit or avoid gluten as much as possible if this is an issue for you.
    • Watch your alcohol and caffeine intake. These products can cause stress hormones to increase which can lead to hormone imbalances.
  • The National Library of Medicine has studied the connection between exposure to Agent Orange and thyroid conditions, finding that thyroid cancer patients have a higher prevalence of Agent Orange exposure compared to the overall Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) patient population. VA lists hypothyroidism as an illness caused by Agent Orange. To learn more, check out VA’s page on exposure to hazardous materials.


For more information on any of the thyroid conditions described above, check out the following resources:

  • The CDC offers information on thyroid conditions, including symptoms, treatments and more.
  • VA offers general information about thyroid conditions with a specific emphasis on women and pregnancy. VA also includes information about what services VA offers.
  • The Office on Women’s Health provides a wealth of information about thyroid diseases, including answers to specific questions you may have.

If you are concerned about your thyroid or about any symptoms you may have, or if you’re trying to become pregnant, reach out to your health care provider to learn more about your thyroid and its connection to your overall health and wellness.

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