Are you always tired? Can’t fall asleep? Always anxious? Your body hurts everywhere? Before brushing these symptoms off as an inevitable consequence of your daily grind, think again.
In our bodies, there is a system of hormone-producing glands called endocrine glands, the disorders of which can lead to a whole gamut of such nonspecific symptoms. Fortunately, if diagnosed properly, there are specific treatments for these endocrine disorders with durable symptom relief.
Thyroid is one of the main endocrine glands along with others such as parathyroid, adrenal and pancreas. The function of thyroid hormone is to maintain and fine-tune the body’s metabolism. One can have either an underactive or an overactive thyroid leading to symptoms ranging from chronic fatigue, constipation or weight gain to sweating, insomnia, diarrhea, weight loss or palpitations.
An enlarged thyroid or a lump in the thyroid can result in difficulty in swallowing, a choking sensation or even changes in your voice. Thyroid problems can be managed medically but may require surgery if medical treatment fails or a thyroid cancer is diagnosed. An endocrine surgeon can then remove the gland resulting in a permanent cure and excellent long-term survival.
Parathyroids are small glands that help to maintain an optimal blood calcium level. A hyperfunctioning parathyroid results in symptoms such as body ache, bone or joint pain, abdominal pain or brittle nails. Frequently, patients also will have psychosomatic symptoms of moodiness, anxiety and difficulty falling asleep. These symptoms are often ignored and in the long term can lead to osteoporosis, fractures and kidney stones. A high calcium level coupled with an elevated parathyroid hormone level clinches the diagnosis. These can then be treated by surgical removal of the bad parathyroid gland with a careful preservation of normal ones.
Disorders of adrenal glands can be notoriously difficult to diagnose. Adrenal disorders cause hypertension, weight gain, muscle weakness, skin changes, and in the case of a tumor called pheochromocytoma, can also be life threatening in stressful situations. A combined medical and surgical treatment is often employed. If not cancerous, the majority of adrenal tumors can be removed with keyhole surgery, and even from your back.
If you are experiencing these symptoms, you should make a visit to your doctor. Although the problem can be subtle and often akin to finding a needle in a haystack, an endocrinologist or endocrine surgeon should be able to make a proper diagnosis and treat you accordingly, with long-lasting resolution of symptoms.
Dr. Paritosh Suman, a general and endocrine surgeon with Baptist Health Medical Group General Surgery, practices at Baptist Health Richmond.