The thyroid gland is a vital endocrine gland that produces hormones that impact the body in various ways. The hormones are produced in regulated quantities for normal functioning. Its main hormones are responsible for cellular metabolism. When the thyroid gland has developed disorders, the abnormalities manifest themselves in many observable symptoms at various stages of the disorder. A key such problem is hair loss which will be given significance in the following sections.
- Hair Loss
Many different conditions can lead to hair loss. Hair loss is a normal occurrence in the growth curve of a human being. Even in other animals. Women after childbirth and at time of menopause can lose hair. Balding is common in men as they reach adulthood. As a result of genetic factors or heredity, both elderly men and women lose hair to different degrees.
Hair grows from a dynamic organ found in the mammalian skin referred to as the hair follicle. On average, the scalp of the human head has about 100,000 hair follicles. Each follicle will grow approximately 20 individual hairs in the lifetime of the human being. These numbers vary according to the genetic factors. Hair growth from these follicles is not continuous. Follicles grow hair in different phases. Thus, at any given time, some follicles are growing hair, whereas some are in a resting phase. In the resting phase, the hair is shed and a rejuvenated hair grows in its place. Because of this, you cannot notice hair loss as new hair is growing in close balance and coordination with the loss. In some mammals, hair growth happens at the same time from all the follicles. Therefore, during the resting phase, the animal is virtually hairless.
Hair loss can also occur due to abnormal body functioning or illness. Examples include diseases such as cancer, pneumonia or hormonal imbalance. In some cases, medical operations and therapy like those involved in cancer can trigger hair loss. However, this is largely a temporary situation and hair can grow back once treatment is successful. An example of hormonal imbalance of the body is characterized by an abnormally functioning thyroid gland. An abnormal thyroid gland can produce a high amount of hormones, hyperthyroidism, or too little hormones, hypothyroidism. Each of this has different impacts on hair growth.
- The Thyroid Gland
The thyroid is an endocrine gland, about two inches long that confers a butterfly –shaped appearance. It is found in front of the throat below the prominence of thyroid cartilage. It has two lobes on either side of the windpipe and connected by a tissue called the isthmus. As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid consists of glands that produce, store and release hormones into the blood stream. The main hormones the thyroid gland produces are tri-iodothyronine and thyroxine in balanced amounts. Their production is coordinated in conjunction with the hypothalamus and pituitary gland found in the brain. These hormones are manufactured from iodine consumed in food, more so, iodized salt.
The hormones from the thyroid gland are released into the bloodstream through which they reach all cells of the body. They are important to cells in regulating the rate of metabolism in cells. They do this by regulating the heart rate and the rate of processing food in the intestines. Disorders that affect the thyroid gland can therefore speed up or slow down the metabolic activities with a wide range of symptoms.
- Thyroid Problems
Often, it is hard to identify the onset of thyroid problems. The common symptoms that may indicate thyroid disorder include tiredness, weight gain or loss, hair loss. In other people it can cause anxiety or abnormal sweating. Women are more prone to thyroid disorders that their male counterparts. Low amounts of the hormones result in a slower heart rate and slower digestion of food. This can lead to constipation and weight gain. High amounts can cause rapid heart rate leading to diarrhea and weight loss. The following are some of the common disorders associated with the thyroid gland.
Hypothyroidism is characterized by low amounts of hormones produced from the thyroid gland. The common symptoms associated with this disorder include weight gain, slow heart rate. Other symptoms can range from tiredness, depression, sluggishness, hair loss, constipation. it can also be manifest as changes or abnormalities in the menstrual cycle, dry skin and brittle nails, tingling and numbness in the hands or fingers.
Hypothyroidism is caused by an immune condition, referred to as Hashimoto’s disease. The immune system of people with the condition mistakenly attacks and damages the thyroid gland. As a result, the gland produces little amounts of hormones. However, this condition is largely genetic.
Also, if there is a problem with the pituitary gland, the thyroid gland does not get the proper signals to make enough thyroid hormones. This will lead to hypothyroidism. On the other hand, thyroid glands can be inflamed or be affected by medications, in which case low amounts of thyroid hormones will be produced.
This condition is characterized by weight loss, increased heart rate and high blood pressure, sleeping disturbances, irritability, anxiety and restlessness. Other symptoms include hair thinning, vision problems, diarrhea, abnormal menstrual cycle, trembling of hands and muscle weakness.
Hyperthyroidism can be caused by an autoimmune condition called grave’s disease. This condition triggers the thyroid gland to produce high amounts of the thyroid hormones. Grave’s disease is characterized by swelling behind the eyes.
In addition, lumps in the thyroid gland called thyroid nodules can begin producing high amounts thyroid hormones. These lumps can grow to be visible whereas the small ones can only be visualized with specialized techniques such as ultrasound and magnetic resonance imaging.
Goiter is a thyroid gland disorder characterized by a swollen neck. It is due to enlargement of the gland in front of the neck. It can occur due to either hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. In other cases, it can be as a result of tumors or nodules developing in the gland.
- Thyroid Cancer
Thyroid cancer is characterized by a lump or swelling in the thyroid gland. It is common in women than in men. Only a small percentage of the thyroid gland nodules are malignant. The good news is that this type of cancer is not common. Prognosis indicates that it is among the least deadly types of cancers known and most people survive it.
- Relationship Between Thyroid Gland And Hair Loss
- Thyroid Hormones and Hair Loss
Hair follicles follow a natural cycle of hair growth and resting phases. At any given time, some hair follicles are undergoing a growth phase, in which the hair lengthens. This is followed by a resting phase, referred to as the telogen phase. In this phase, a new hair grows which replaces the old one. Thyroid hormones from the thyroid gland are responsible for normal growth of hair. Thus, the proper functioning of the thyroid gland is integral in maintaining good quality hair. When the thyroid gland produces abnormal amounts of the thyroid hormones, in can cause changes in hair growth among other effects.
Two conditions can result when the thyroid gland produces abnormal amounts of thyroid hormone. First, hyperthyroidism, where the gland is said to be overactive and produces too much thyroid hormones which causes the hair to become fine and causes thinning of hair on the scalp. Hypothyroidism, on the other hand, is when the gland is underactive and produces too little thyroid hormone, which can cause hair loss on any hairy part of the body.
- Thyroid Medication and Hair Loss
Some treatments of the thyroid glands can cause hair loss among other side effects. For instance, treatment using hormonal drugs to treat under activity of the thyroid gland can contribute to some hair loss. But, it is prevalent in the first month of treatment, and common in children than in adults. This is usually a temporary occurrence which will easily go away once hormones levels produced stabilize.
However, it is not easy to tell when hair loss is due to treatment. This is because some thyroid problems start to cause hair loss long after their occurrence. By which time, the patient may already be under treatment. Thus, the medication may be misconstrued to cause the hair loss. In such a case, patients seek alternative medication which is not necessary.
- Autoimmune Thyroid Disease and Hair Loss
Mostly, hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism are associated with autoimmune thyroid disease. Such people are likely to develop autoimmune conditions such as alopecia. This is a condition that causes hair loss in people with the autoimmune thyroid disease. This condition causes hair loss in small, discrete circular areas. It can cause significant baldness, but it is a rather a temporary situation which does not progress in most cases. Other conditions associated with autoimmune thyroid disease include polycystic ovarian syndrome and Lupus erythematosus. Polycystic ovarian syndrome manifests itself as diffuse hair loss among other symptoms such as irregular periods and acne. Lupus erythematosus is associated with hair loss through scarring.
- What To Do In Case Of Hair Loss
Hair loss alone is not a major health concern. If one is experiencing unusual or unexpected hair loss, it is recommended that one consults a qualified physician. In addition, it is unusual for the thyroid to cause hair loss without showing other symptoms of thyroid disorders. Therefore, advice of a qualified practitioner is paramount. The psychological impact of hair loss can unsettle anyone; therefore, it is advised to accept the changes. Thyroid gland affects many other functions of the body other than hair growth. Thus, it is highly recommended to see a doctor. The good news is that once you have your thyroid disease diagnosed, the right treatment can be administered to regulate the production of thyroid hormones. Once the amount of hormones produced is resolved, the hair loss problem will be contained. Some of the treatments to correct thyroid gland disorders include;
- Treatment of Hypothyroidism
Hypothyroidism can be treated using thyroid hormone supplements in form of pills. The supplements will diminish symptoms in a few weeks upon beginning therapy. However, most of those affected by hypothyroidism will take the supplements in their entire life. Taking the supplements over a long time can have adverse effect such as weight loss, increased energy and lowering of cholesterol levels.
- Treatment of hyperthyroidism
There are a number of options in treating this condition. The choice of option will depend on a qualified physicians diagnosis as well as medical history consideration. Some of these options include;
This medication attempts to lower the amount of thyroid hormone produced. This is the prevalent intervention for this condition. Like in hypothyroidism, people with this condition need to take medication over a long time, usually the entire life time. Additional medication may be required to treat other symptoms of hyperthyroidism such as tremors and fast heart rate.
This involves oral consumption of radioactive iodine. The iodine is absorbed into the blood stream and localizes in the thyroid gland where it destroys its cells over a few weeks. The result is fewer gland cells to produce thyroid hormones.
Thyroidectomy is a surgical intervention procedure to remove the thyroid gland. This is a kind of last resort intervention when all other medication has failed. At times, medication may remedy the problem for a time. It is in such cases that treatment by surgery is recommended. Surgery can involve removal of the whole thyroid gland, nodules or tumors in the gland. A person whose thyroid gland has been removed will resort to taking thyroid hormone supplements in pill form in his or her entire life.
Use of beta blockers
Beta blockers are used to manage the symptoms of hyperthyroidism such as high blood pressure, rapid heart rate and heart palpitations. The do not treat the thyroid gland. The gland continues to release high amounts of hormone while the blockers reduce the resulting effect. This is akin to taking painkillers without remedying the underlying problem.
- Treatment of Thyroid Cancer
Depending on the development stage of the cancer, some thyroid cancer is treated by surgically removing the gland. This is followed by radiotherapy using radioactive iodine or radiation therapy. However, thyroid cancer is never easily treated with external radiotherapy.