It has become a buzz word lately, but what do we really know about our Thyroid? We hear commercials and see advertisements for over and under active thyroids, but how many of us can describe what this essential gland does for us and our bodies? The Thyroid is one of the largest endocrine glands in the body. It’s located in our necks controlling how our bodies use energy, make proteins, and it regulates how sensitive we are to other hormones. The thyroid produces two key hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and Thyroxine (T4), which controls our metabolic rate and affects the growth rate of other systems in the body.
The two major Thyroid problems are hyperthyroidism, an over-active thyroid, and hypothyroidism, an under-active thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism is exactly like it sounds – an over production of thyroid hormones. Since these hormones regulate our metabolism and other systems, a number of processes in the body speed up with increased Thyroid hormones. Not surprising symptoms are nervousness, irritability, increased perspiration, a racing heart, hand tremors, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, weight loss (despite a healthy appetite). Hypothyroidism usually begins slowly, and many of the symptoms may be attributed to stress rather than a more serious medical condition. The most common form or cause of hyperthyroidism is Graves Disease. It’s characterized by enlarged appearing eyes due to the swelling of the eye muscles pushing the eyes forward. One may also notice swelling in the front of the neck as a result of an enlarged thyroid. Treatment range from antithyroid drugs, beta blockers, radioiodine and surgery. An otolaryngologist, or ear, nose and throat specialist, can diagnose and determine the best treatment for each individual.
In contrast, hypothyroidism is caused by an under-active thyroid. As one can assume this causes the body to become lethargic. The symptoms are fatigue, cold intolerance, constipation, depression, muscle cramps, paleness, weight gain/water retention, and poor muscle tone. Approximately three percent of the population has this condition, and can be due to iodine deficiency (the most common), postpartum thyroiditis (affecting women within the first year after giving birth), a high intake of iodine, or lithium based mood stabilizers. Treatment is generally the intake of a daily pill that contains thyroid hormone to help supplement the thyroid’s production.
Other Thyroid problems include goitre’s, tumors, and cancer. Simple blood tests or ultrasounds can easily diagnose most thyroid problems. If you feel as though you may have any of these symptoms it’s best to make an appointment with an otolaryngologist. They are specialist uniquely trained to diagnose and treat Thyroid disorders. It’s always important to see a doctor if any symptoms persist for a length of time. And now that you know your Thyroid be sure to take good care of it by eating well and exercising!