5 Common Thyroid Diseases That Affect Women

Medically reviewed by Dr. Tan Chuan Chien, Consultant General Surgeon (Breast Surgery)

What Is the Thyroid Gland?

The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ located in the front of your neck, wrapped around your windpipe (trachea). It is part of the endocrine system responsible for producing hormones, mainly thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are essential in many of your body’s processes, helping to regulate your body’s vital functions.

What Does the Thyroid Gland Do?

The thyroid gland plays a crucial role in your endocrine system — releasing and regulating hormones that control your body’s metabolism. This energy is utilised throughout your body to ensure that your body systems are functioning properly. The thyroid gland will typically produce the exact amount of hormones required to keep your body’s metabolism in balance.

Like any other organ in the body, the thyroid can also malfunction, resulting in thyroid-related diseases. In fact, thyroid diseases are relatively common, with women being 10 times more prone to thyroid problems.

Here are the 5 common thyroid diseases that affect women.

1. Goitre

Goitre is a noncancerous type of thyroid disease in which the thyroid gland swells and enlarges. Anyone can develop a goitre regardless of age; however, it is known that women above the age of 40 are more likely at risk.

One or more of the following common symptoms may include:

  • Obvious swelling in your neck
  • Tightness in your neck
  • Difficulty breathing or swallowing
  • Hoarseness of voice
  • Coughing
Causes of Goitre

Iodine deficiency is one of the leading causes of goitres. As iodine is one of the key minerals in the production of thyroid hormones, a lack of iodine in your diet can lead to the development of endemic goitres.

Insufficient thyroid hormones produced can also lead to the enlargement of the thyroid to make up for this shortage, forming a goitre.

Goitre Diagnosis and Treatment

Several tests can be carried out to diagnose a goitre, including the following:

  • Physical examination. Your thyroid specialist may check your neck for swelling or signs of nodules (growth of abnormal tissues).
  • Blood tests can measure thyroid hormone levels to indicate if the thyroid gland is functioning correctly.
  • Ultrasound scan. It is an imaging test that produces images of your neck, your goitre’s size, and any presence of nodules.
  • Nuclear medicine thyroid scan. This is done by injecting a small amount of radioactive material into your veins to produce images of your thyroid on a computer, revealing the condition of your goitre.
  • Biopsy. This involves retrieving several small samples of any thyroid nodules present, which will be sent for further examinations.

The typical treatment methods of goitre are:

  • Medications prescribed depend on whether the thyroid is overactive or underactive.
  • Surgical removal of the goitre.
  • Radioactive iodine treatment to destroy an overactive thyroid.

2. Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism is a condition in which your thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormones, and your body cells work faster than usual. This results in a high metabolic rate.

Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism may include the following:

  • Swelling in your neck
  • Rapid and irregular heart rate
  • Diarrhoea
  • Weight loss
  • Fatigue
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Insomnia
  • Elevated blood pressure
Causes of Hyperthyroidism

A variety of conditions can cause hyperthyroidism, including:

  • Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disorder, which causes your immune system’s antibodies to invade and stimulate your thyroid. This will result in your thyroid producing too much hormone.
  • Excess iodine can also cause your thyroid to secrete too much hormone.
  • Thyroiditis, which is an inflammation of your thyroid, will cause stored thyroid hormones to leak out of the thyroid gland.
  • Thyroid nodules, which are benign tumours that develop in your thyroid, may occasionally become overactive and produce too much hormone.
  • Excessive thyroid medication, taken by patients with hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).
Hyperthyroidism Diagnosis and Treatment

Several tests can be carried out to diagnose hyperthyroidism, including the following:

  • Physical examination. You may be checked for any symptoms such as a rapid pulse or a swollen neck.
  • Cholesterol test. A low cholesterol level may indicate an increased metabolic rate as your body burns cholesterol faster.
  • Blood tests can measure thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels to indicate whether the thyroid gland functions correctly. The pituitary gland, another part of your endocrine system, releases TSH to stimulate the thyroid gland to produce hormones. High thyroid hormone and low TSH levels can indicate an overactive thyroid gland.
  • Radioactive iodine. Your thyroid specialist may administer small amounts of radioactive iodine into the mouth or through an injection to measure the amount of iodine your thyroid gland absorbs, which will reveal whether the thyroid gland is working normally.
  • Imaging tests, such as ultrasound or thyroid scan, can measure the size of your thyroid gland and identify any abnormal growth.

Treatments for hyperthyroidism damages the thyroid gland to reduce the production of thyroid hormones.

  • Medications. Anti-thyroid drugs such as methimazole prevents your thyroid gland from overproducing hormones.
  • Radioactive iodine treatment. A large dose of radioactive iodine may be administered which effectively damages the thyroid gland and the cells that produce thyroid hormones.
  • Surgery to remove part or all of your thyroid can also be done.

3. Hypothyroidism

On the other hand, if too little thyroid hormones are produced, you may develop another condition called hypothyroidism. This is the complete opposite of hyperthyroidism, as your body cells will work slower than expected (underactive).

Some of the common symptoms of hypothyroidism may include the following:

  • Fatigue
  • Constipation
  • Weight gain
  • Swollen neck
  • Irregular menstrual cycle
  • Slow heart rate
  • Depression
  • Muscle aches
Causes of Hypothyroidism

The most common cause of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. It is an autoimmune disorder where your body’s antibodies attack and destroy your thyroid glands, resulting in the underproduction of thyroid hormones.

Over response to hyperthyroidism treatment such as an excess amount of radioactive iodine or anti-thyroid medications may also develop hypothyroidism instead as you may end up lowering thyroid hormone production by too much. Similarly, surgery performed to remove part or all of the thyroid gland may also result in an underactive thyroid as hormone production is significantly reduced.

Hypothyroidism Diagnosis and Treatment

Tests to diagnose hypothyroidism are similar to hyperthyroidism.

They may include:

  • A physical examination to check for symptoms such as a swollen neck or apparent weight gain.
  • Blood tests to measure thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Low thyroid hormone and high TSH levels can signal an underactive thyroid gland.
  • Imaging tests, such as ultrasound or thyroid scan, can measure the size of your thyroid gland and identify any abnormal growth.

The typical main treatment of hypothyroidism is to take thyroid hormone medications. These medications replace the shortage of hormones produced by your thyroid gland, ensuring your hormone levels are balanced. However, the amount of thyroid hormone medications to consume must be carefully measured as too much of it may cause hyperthyroidism.

4. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is an autoimmune disorder where your immune system’s antibodies attack and destroy your thyroid glands, resulting in the underproduction of thyroid hormones.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is different from hypothyroidism as one affects the immune system while the other affects the thyroid gland. It is one of the common possible causes of hypothyroidism. However, if you are suffering from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, you may not necessarily develop hypothyroidism.

Common symptoms of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis are similar to hypothyroidism.

Causes of Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis occurs when your immune system’s antibodies mistakenly attack and destroy your thyroid glands. The actual reason is largely unknown, but many believe that viruses might play a significant role.

Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis Diagnosis and Treatment

Diagnosing Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is similar to hypothyroidism. Blood tests are performed to measure thyroid hormone and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) levels. Low thyroid hormone and high TSH levels can be signals for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. The blood tests can also reveal abnormal antibodies that might be damaging the thyroid.

There is generally no exact treatment for Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. However, thyroid hormone medications to replace the lost hormones may likely be recommended to raise hormone levels.

5. Thyroid Nodules

Thyroid nodules are abnormal growths that may be solid or liquid-filled, and they tend to develop on or in the thyroid gland.

Thyroid nodules and goitres are not exactly the same. Thyroid nodules are lumps that develop in the thyroid gland, while a goitre is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. A goitre can also develop from the formation of several nodules.
Common symptoms of thyroid nodules are also similar to other types of thyroid diseases.

Causes of Thyroid Nodules

The actual cause of thyroid nodules is unknown, but several medical conditions may result in their formation.

They may include:

  • Thyroiditis, which is the inflammation of the thyroid gland.
  • Iodine deficiency
  • Thyroid adenoma, which is an unusual growth of thyroid tissues
  • Thyroid cancer. Most thyroid nodules are benign, but some do turn out to be cancerous.
Thyroid Nodules Diagnosis and Treatment

During the physical examination, an apparent swelling of your neck may hint the presence of thyroid nodules. Thereafter, imaging tests such as an ultrasound or thyroid scan may be conducted to accurately check for the presence of nodules.

Once a thyroid nodule is detected, blood and thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) tests may be performed to measure thyroid hormone levels. A biopsy may also be conducted to determine if the nodule is cancerous.

As thyroid nodules are mostly benign, there is usually no need for treatment. However, if the nodules grow over time and related symptoms appear, treatment may be necessary.

The treatment options for thyroid nodules also depend on whether these nodules result in an overactive (hyperthyroidism) or underactive (hypothyroidism) thyroid. If the thyroid nodules turn out to be cancerous, surgery to remove these nodules will most likely be recommended by a specialist.

Conclusion

Most thyroid diseases such as hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism cannot be prevented.
However, you can prevent complications by getting diagnosed early and following your doctor’s prescribed treatment.

Schedule a thyroid examination and consultation with our thyroid specialist Dr. Tan Chuan Chien today: https://cctansurgery.com.sg/contact-us/

As a supporter of personalised surgical care, I understand that no two patients are the same. I believe in tailoring management for each patient to meet each individual’s needs and expectations. A patient’s journey can be difficult and frustrating at times, so I strive to make this experience as pleasant and seamless as possible.

Dr. Tan Chuan Chien

Dr. Tan Chuan Chien

Consultant General Surgeon Breast & Thyroid Surgery
  • Bachelor of Medicine & Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS)- The University of Adelaide, Australia
  • Fellow of the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons (FRACS)
  • Full Registration, Singapore Medical Council (SMC) and Specialist Accreditation Board, Singapore (General Surgery)
  • Full General & Specialist Registration (General Surgery), Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency (AHPRA)
  • Completed Breast Surgery training through the BreastSurgANZ Fellowship programme

Dr. Tan Chuan Chien is a Fellowship-trained Breast and Endocrine Surgeon practicing as a Consultant General Surgeon at Gleneagles Hospital, Singapore. He also sees patients at Mount Elizabeth Novena Specialist Centre and Parkway East Medical Centre. Dr. Tan is a registered Specialist Surgeon (General Surgery) in both Singapore and Australia.

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