Your thyroid is probably something you don’t spend a lot of time thinking about. So you may not know that thyroid disorders are common, with nearly 20 million Americans affected.
What is Your Thyroid?
Your thyroid is part of your endocrine system. It is a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck just below your Adam’s apple. Even though it is rather small, it plays a huge role in your body.
What Does Your Thyroid Do?
It produces two main hormones called T3 and T4, which travel through your blood to all parts of your body. These hormones influence the function of your body’s most important organs, including your heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and skin.
One primary function of these hormones is to control the rate of many activities in your body, including how fast your heart beats and how fast you burn calories, which is known as your metabolism. When your thyroid is working properly, it will create the right amount of hormones needed to keep your metabolism working at a steady rate, not too fast and not too slow.
Your thyroid is controlled by the pituitary gland, which is a gland about the size of a pea located at the base of your brain. The pituitary gland checks the number of hormones in your blood and then tells your thyroid to make more or less.
In order to produce its hormones, the thyroid uses iodine, which comes from the food you eat. Iodine mainly comes from seafood and dairy products, but it is also added to table salt.
What Happens When You Have a Thyroid Disorder
Typically, your thyroid is constantly producing just the right amount of hormones to keep your body running normally. However, sometimes outside forces such as disease, damage to the gland, or medications can impact its function.
When the gland isn’t producing enough hormones, a condition called hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid results, slowing all of your body’s functions. Symptoms include fatigue, feeling cold when others are comfortable or warm, a slow heart rate, dry skin, constipation, weight gain even though your diet and fitness regimen haven’t changed, and, in children, growing very slowly.
In some cases, your thyroid can produce too many hormones, which is called hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. Symptoms include feeling nervous and irritable, having trouble concentrating, feeling too warm when others don’t feel warm, a fast heart rate, diarrhea, trouble sleeping, and losing weight without trying.
Sometimes, a lump or swelling can occur in the thyroid, which is called a nodule. Nodules can sometimes have no effect on how the gland works or sometimes can lead to having too many hormones in your system. Some nodules may be cancerous.
The gland can also become enlarged, called a goiter. This can be caused by iodine deficiency or other health conditions. When this happens, it can create too many or not enough hormones. However, in some cases, it doesn’t impact the amount of hormone the gland produces.
Sometimes a serious health concern leads doctors to recommend thyroid removal. In these cases, patients take a hormone pill daily after surgery.
Endocrinology is a type of medicine that deals with glands and hormones. Crozer Health endocrinologists specialize in the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes and disorders of the thyroid, metabolism, and endocrine system. The endocrine system consists of the pituitary gland, hypothalamus, pancreas, adrenal cortex, thyroid gland, parathyroid glands, and gonads.