Thyroid Disease Types and Treatments

What is thyroid disease?

A number of different treatments are given for thyroid disease, depending upon the type of disease that is present. Both medical and surgical treatment options can be used in the treatment of thyroid diseases.

Surgery for Thyroid Disease

Surgery is the typical treatment of choice for thyroid cancers. It can also be used in the unusual case of large goiters that cause symptoms by pressing on adjacent organs and structures. Surgery may be done to remove all or part of the thyroid gland. If you have had thyroid surgery you may need to begin taking thyroid hormone medications to avoid hypothyroidism.

Medications for Thyroid Disease

Thyroid replacement hormones taken in pill form are an effective treatment if you have an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). The synthetic hormone levothyroxine (Synthroid, Levoxyl) is taken daily.

If you have an overactive thyroid, medications that block production of thyroid hormones (antithyroid drugs such as methimazole (Tapazole) and propylthiouracil (PTU) can be prescribed. One major risk and side effect of antithyroid medications is the occasional development of suppression of bone marrow production of white blood cells. A one-time dose of radioactive iodine can also be administered to ablate an overactive thyroid gland. This treatment is safe except during pregnancy and breastfeeding, and is a common way to manage recurrent Graves' disease and some other conditions. Antithyroid medications have been associatied with liver failure. This is more common with propylthiouracil (PTU), so methimazole is usually recommended, except for during the first trimester of pregnancy.

In some cases, permanent hypothyroidism can result from ablation of the gland with radioactive iodine.

Finally, medications that help control the symptoms of hyperthyroidism are sometimes prescribed (such as beta-blockers), but these do not treat the underlying thyroid condition.

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Medically reviewed by John A. Seibel, MD; Board Certified Internal Medicine with a subspecialty in Endocrinology & Metabolism

REFERENCE: Thyroid disease fact sheet.