Thyroid Disorders Diagnosis and Treatment

The thyroid disorder specialists at UC San Diego Health are experts in diagnosing and treating the symptoms and complications of hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism. Image of an endocrinologist and a patient.

The Thyroid Gland

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck (just below the voice box, or larynx).

The thyroid gland is a vital part of the endocrine system. It’s responsible for producing two important hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).

These hormones regulate the rate at which processes in the body (e.g., breathing, contracting muscles) convert and use energy (metabolism).

Thyroid conditions include:

Did You Know?

  • Women are 5-8 times more likely to have a thyroid problem.
  • Approximately 20 million Americans currently have some form of thyroid disease.
  • Undiagnosed thyroid disease can increase risk for osteoporosis, infertility and cardiovascular disease.
  • Pregnant women with undiagnosed hypothyroidism have an increased risk for preterm delivery, developmental problems (in baby), and miscarriage.

Diagnosing Thyroid Disease

Diagnosing thyroid disease can be tricky, as the symptoms associated with thyroid disease can overlap and be confused with many different health problems.

To determine if you have a thyroid condition, your doctor may perform a physical exam, a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) test and a radioactive iodine uptake or thyroid scan.

Depending on results of TSH test, additional blood tests may be needed to check the levels of one or both of your T3 and T4 hormones.

TSH is produced by the pituitary gland and helps regulate thyroid hormone production. When thyroid hormone levels drop or rise, the pituitary gland responds by dropping or raising TSH.

In most situations, the TSH test is the most accurate test for diagnosing both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism.  

Family History Risk Factor

If a family member has thyroid disease, you have a higher chance of developing the disease at some point in your life. If you believe that you are having symptoms, it's recommended that you come in for a screening.

What Kind of Doctor Should You See?

Many primary care physicians can diagnose and treat mild hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism and thyroiditis. However, when symptoms are severe and do not improve on their own within a few months, you should be assessed by an endocrinologist.

Overactive Thyroid Gland (Hyperthyroidism)

When the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone, this is known as hyperthyroidism.

Graves’ disease is the leading cause of hyperthyroidism. Graves’ disease is an autoimmune condition where your own immune system triggers your thyroid to overproduce thyroid hormone. It is most common in women over the age of 20, but can occur in men too.

Learn more about hyperthyroidism in our health library

Underactive Thyroid Gland (Hypothyroidism)

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid gland is underactive or doesn’t produce enough hormones to meet the body’s needs. Many body functions require the hormones produced by your thyroid gland. Without them, functions slow down.

While hypothyroidism is most common in women 50 or older, it can occur in anyone – man or woman – at any age. People who have a parent or grandparent with an autoimmune disease also have an increased risk.

Learn more about hypothyroidism in our health library