You’ve probably heard of the thyroid gland, but do you know what it does? You might not give it a second thought unless something goes wrong. Learning about your thyroid can help you identify problems and get treatment as needed.
Through the hormones it produces, the thyroid influences almost all of the important processes in your body, including breathing, heart rate, digestion and temperature.
These systems speed up as thyroid levels rise. Problems occur if the thyroid makes too much or too little hormone. When functioning improperly, the thyroid can cause a range of problems, including drastic changes to your weight, energy, digestion or mood.
The thyroid is located at the front of the neck, near the area of the Adam’s apple. The gland is usually larger in women and increases in size during pregnancy.
If the gland produces too many hormones, it is called hyperthyroidism. Problems with the thyroid gland can affect many body systems. Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be treated.
If you have hyperthyroidism, it means your thyroid is overactive and produces too much of a hormone called thyroxine. If can speed up your metabolism and cause unpleasant symptoms, including:
Also called underactive thyroid disease, hypothyroidism is a common disorder caused when your thyroid doesn’t make enough of the thyroid hormone. Often the thyroid gland is inflamed. This can be caused by a variety of influences including certain medications, a viral infection, radiation therapy to the neck area, thyroid surgery, too little iodine in the diet, pituitary gland disorders or an autoimmune disorder called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
Women are at a higher risk of developing hypothyroidism, as are people who have a close family member with an autoimmune disease. Other risk factors include:
• Race (Caucasian and Asian, especially)
• Prematurely graying hair.
• Autoimmune disorders, including type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, celiac disease, Addison’s disease, vitiligo
• Bipolar disorder
• Down syndrome
• Turner syndrome
• Changes in your menstrual cycle
• Dry skin and hair loss
• Sensitivities to temperature
• Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight
• Slower heart rate
• Carpal tunnel syndrome
Although the effects of a thyroid condition can be unpleasant, most thyroid problems can be managed well if properly diagnosed and treated. Your doctor may prescribe medication or recommend surgery depending on your condition.