It’s hard to imagine a tiny little gland inside your neck could have so much impact on overall health, but it does. Compare your body to an automobile. The thyroid gland could be considered the engine of the body, which sets the pace for how all other systems function. And the energy produced by an engine is similar to thyroid hormones. If your thyroid gland isn’t functioning properly or producing hormones correctly, problems can arise, and it does for more than 20 million Americans1. In celebration of National Thyroid Awareness Month, we’re taking a closer look at what the thyroid is and does, and why you should care.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits right below the Adam’s apple in your neck. Using iodine as fuel, which we ingest through iodized table salt, and foods like milk, bread and seafood, the thyroid produces hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Based on messages from the pituitary gland that come in the form of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), T3 and T4 take off into the bloodstream as needed, to help control metabolic function. The pituitary gland gets its direction by monitoring the amount of T4 in the blood, but also from the hypothalamus, a section of the brain that produces thyrotropin-releasing hormone (TRH), which tells the pituitary gland when it’s time to make TSH. Simply put, it’s a complicated and intricate system!
Thyroid hormones control metabolic function in every cell in your body and impact all bodily systems. From the speed of your heartbeat to your digestive function, thyroid hormones are at work behind the scenes.
When a person doesn’t have enough thyroid hormone, the condition is called hypothyroidism. Symptoms include trouble sleeping, fatigue, dry skin and hair, depression, feeling cold and for women, frequent, heavy periods. Too much thyroid hormone can be problematic as well. Hyperthyroidism presents with symptoms like anxiety or moodiness, hyperactivity, the feeling of being too warm, hair loss, trembling hands and for women, missed or light periods. If you experience symptoms like these, be sure to discuss them with your doctor.
If thyroid abnormalities are suspected, doctors typically use two or more blood tests to investigate. Blood tests that test levels of T3, T4 and TSH can help detect problems with the thyroid or pituitary glands. An iodine uptake scan can show how much iodine is being absorbed by the thyroid and thyroid ultrasound can show physical abnormalities like nodules. Other blood tests show problematic thyroid antibodies. Depending on your symptoms, your doctor will order the right tests for you.
According to an estimate by the American Cancer Society, 62,450 new cases of thyroid cancer will be diagnosed in 2016and 3 of 4 cases will occur in women2. Survival rates for thyroid cancers are considered high when compared to other types of cancer, but depend on the specific type. If you or a loved one is dealing with a thyroid cancer diagnosis, discuss condition-specific information with your doctor.
1 https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid/hypothyroidism-too-little-thyroid-hormonelink opens in a new window
2 http://www.cancer.org/cancer/thyroidcancer/detailedguide/thyroid-cancer-key-statistics.link opens in a new window
3 http://www.thyroidawareness.com/about-your-thyroid.link opens in a new window
4https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid-nodules/thyroid-gland-controls-bodys-metabolism-how-it-works-symptoms-hyperthyroi.link opens in a new window
5https://www.endocrineweb.com/conditions/thyroid/thyroid-gland-function.link opens in a new window