Thyroid disorders are relatively common and can be triggered by multiple causes. The thyroid gland lies in the neck at the Adam’s apple, immediately on front of the windpipe, and produces the iodine-containing substances that control the rate of metabolism (the pace of chemical activity in all the body cells.)
Thyroid disorders can therefore affect mental and physical growth and development. The thyroid is in turn controlled by the pituitary gland at the base of the skull, which secretes thyroid-stimulating hormone.
There are 3 main thyroid disorders that affect people. They are Goitre, Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and Hyperthroidism (overactive thyroid).
A goitre is formed by the swelling of the thyroid gland which causes a lump in the front of the neck. There are two types of goitre, diffuse or nodular. It can be caused by:
- Hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism
- Lack of iodine in the diet
- Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid)
- Thyroid cancer.
Patients with goitre may display symptoms such as coughing, tightness in the throat, difficulty swallowing or breathing and sometimes changes to the voice, such as hoarseness.
An underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism) is where your thyroid gland does not produce enough hormones. Common signs of an underactive thyroid are tiredness, weight gain and feeling depressed.
Most cases are caused either by the immune system attacking the thyroid gland and damaging it, or by damage to the thyroid that occurs during some treatments for an overactive thyroid or thyroid cancer.
Underactive thyroid glands are, according to Chinese Medicine theory usually attributed to Spleen deficiency, Kidney deficiency and dampness. The treatment will aim to tonify the Spleen, tonify the Kidneys and remove internal dampness. Chuan Bei Mu (Bulbus Fritillariae Cirrhosae) is often used as a medicine.
An overactive thyroid results in excess of the thyroid hormones in the blood. This speeds up the metabolic rate, and sufferers lose weight, become restless and fidgety, and find it difficult to sleep. They can suffer from palpitations and sweating, a goitre may develop, and the eyes may bulge.
Overactivity of the thyroid gland is caused by Heat in the Liver, according to Chinese Medicine, and can sometimes also be caused by a deficiency in the Liver, which may make sufferers hungry, nervous and prone to sweating. Chinese Medicine treatment begins by clearing the Heat from the Liver, in order to restore its balance. Many marine plants and animals are used in the treatment, especially seaweed.
Thyroid disorders can generally be treated with Chinese herbal medicine, but treatments may also incorporate acupuncture too. Your practitioner may also provide you with advice on dietary and/or lifestyle changes which may positively affect thyroid disorders.
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