Your thyroid is a small butterfly shaped gland that sits just below your voice box. This small gland produces hormones that affect nearly every organ in your body. Your thyroid produces two hormones which regulate the metabolic processes in your body.
What Your Thyroid Does:
- Controls how fast your heart beats
- Regulates metabolism
- Determines how fast you burn calories
- Regulates bone maintenance
- Helps control weight & digestive function
- Affects how you breathe
- Helps control your menstrual cycle
- Affects ovulation (If you are struggling to get pregnant, have your thyroid checked.)
- Helps control body temperature
- Helps control cholesterol levels
- Regulates muscle control
- Regulates brain development
- Regulates mood
After reviewing all the body processes that your thyroid affects, you will agree that it has an important function in the body. 12% of people will have a problem with their thyroid at some point in their life and 1 out of every 8 women. And even though that statistic seems high the good news is thyroid problems are usually treatable and if for some reason your thyroid must be removed there are medicines that can mimic the function of the thyroid hormones and keep your body on track.
Increased Risk Factors for Thyroid Problems:
- Family history of thyroid problems
- Women more likely than men
- Have had radiation therapy to the head or neck
- Some cold and sinus medicines
- Take heart condition medicines
Diagnostic Tests that Determine a Thyroid Problem:
Blood test TSH levels (thyroid stimulating hormone)
Thyroid ultrasound – sound waves to create a picture
Thyroid scan – you will swallow radioiodine and a special camera makes an image
Needle Biopsy – Numb neck area. Stick a thin needle into thy thyroid to take out some cells and fluid.
Most thyroid problems can be managed, and treated. Your treatment will be determined once an accurate diagnosis is determined. Many times problems can be treated with medication. If that won’t suffice, radioiodine therapy or surgery may be required.
Common Thyroid Problems:
A goiter is an enlarged thyroid gland. This can be a temporary swelling that will go away on its own. It can also be a sign or symptom of a more serious thyroid disease. A goiter can feel like a lump in your neck. Sometimes they can be seen or felt.
Symptoms can include: a visible lump, a tight feeling in your throat, persistent cough, trouble swallowing or trouble breathing.
Your doctor will want to rule out any other condition that is causing your goiter. So if you suspect you may have a problem, go see a health care practitioner.
Many times medication to shrink the goiter is all that is necessary.
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid is not producing enough hormone and the systems in your body are being compromised. It can be hard to determine if your thyroid is malfunctioning or you are just experiencing age related slowing metabolism. Hypothyroidism is more likely to develop after menopause.
Symptoms to look for:
- Tired / sluggish
- Feel cold when other’s don’t
- Weight gain without increased eating
- Pale, dry skin
- Slow heart rate
- Less sweating than normal
- More than usual menstrual bleeding
- Muscle weakness / joint pain
The good news is hypothyroidism can be treated with medicine. The bad news, you will need to take medication the rest of your life.
Hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid is producing too hormones. Again this can happen gradually and be hard to diagnose.
Symptoms to look for:
- Feeling irritable, nervous or anxious
- Weight loss even with increased eating
- Irregular or fast heart beat
- Trouble sleeping
- Trembling in your hands
Hyperthyroidism can increase your risk for osteoporosis. This condition can be treated with medication. But again diagnosis isn’t always easy. And not everyone experiences the unexplainable weight loss.
Thyroid cancer is rare. Your thyroid can develop nodules or lumps that are filled with fluid or blood. Most of these nodules will not cause symptoms and are not cancerous. Sometimes these lumps can be felt when swallowing or cause a hoarse voice. If you have a nodule or lump you need to see your doctor to determine if it is something to be concerned with. If necessary, they will perform a needle biopsy to determine if these nodules have cells that are cancerous.
If cancerous, surgery to remove the cancer is possible. You would then need to take medication to mimic the hormones that your thyroid would produce in order for your body to function properly.
Thyroid cancer is on the rise. Three times more women get thyroid cancer compared to men.
We all need to be aware of how valuable our thyroid is and be mindful of any signs that things aren’t working as they should. Most infants have their thyroid checked soon after birth now, which is a good thing. Thyroid problems in an infant can cause mental retardation and stunted growth.
Your thyroid is crucial for the correct function of many symptoms in your body. If you suspect you may have a problem talk with your health care professional.
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