The thyroid is a gland located in the anterior (front) part of the neck. It is responsible for secreting hormones that primarily affect growth and development of the body via the regulation of metabolic rate. Apart from this, the thyroid has an effect, to some extent, on almost every system of the body.
Signs and Symptoms of Thyroid Disorders
In certain cases, the thyroid may start secreting an excess of hormones. This abnormality is called hyperthyroidism. On the contrary, if the secretion of thyroid hormones is abnormally inhibited or reduced to below normal levels, this condition is referred to as hypothyroidism. Typically, hyperthyroidism causes the thyroid gland to swell which presents as a lump in the throat. Hypothyroidism can also present as a lump in the neck; however, this condition is rare. Some other signs and symptoms of thyroid disorders include:-
- Dysphagia - difficulty swallowing food. This condition occurs when the size of the thyroid gland increases to such an extent that it begins putting pressure on esophagus (food pipe).
- Dyspnea - Shortness of breath. Difficulty in breathing may also occur if the thyroid gland pushes against the trachea (breathing tube).
- Palpitations - feelings of panic and anxiety, accompanied by rapidity of heartbeat in different parts of the body.
- Gastrointestinal disorders: Constipation or diarrhea, bloating, gas, nausea, abdominal fullness.
How are Thyroid Disorders Diagnosed?
It is fairly easy to diagnose any thyroid disorder, with the help of certain specific blood tests and thyroid scans. Many cases of thyroid disorders may be diagnosed clinically. However, it is still necessary to confirm the disease by running lab tests and further investigations. These may include the following:
- Thyroid Profile - a blood test that includes measuring levels of thyroid hormones (T3, T4, Free T4, and TSH).
- Thyroid Scan - similar to ultrasound scan.
- CT scan and MRI - subject to necessity.
Some Other Conditions that may Cause Difficulty in Swallowing
Some of the common disorders that might cause dysphagia include:
- Achalasia: It is defined as the inability of the lower esophageal muscles or sphincter to relax adequately. Relaxation of the lower esophageal sphincter provides food entry into the stomach after travelling through the esophagus. In certain disorders, this sphincter may not function properly, constraining food to stay within the esophagus. This causes dysphagia along with burning sensations, bloating, gas, and abdominal cramps. 'Barium studies' is the test used to confirm this diagnosis.
- Esophageal Stricture: The narrowing of the esophagus in some particular areas may cause big food particles to get lodged in the esophagus. This condition usually causes a type of dysphagia which restricts solids only. Likeachalasia, this condition may also be diagnosed using barium studies. Treatment, however, will depend on the severity of the disease.
- Long standing GERD: Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD) refers to the reflux of gastric contents into the esophagus. This is a common condition and tends occur in people who are obese, overweight, or have a sedentary lifestyle. If GERD becomes prolonged, it may affect the muscles of the esophagus, causing dysphagia. This condition can be fatal.
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