Small in size but mighty in function
Remember Mohammed Ali’s famous line? “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” Well that’s a perfect description of the thyroid gland too. Fairly small and shaped like a butterfly, the thyroid gland has a large and powerful impact on the function of the body’s most important organs, such as the heart, liver, kidneys, skin, and brain.
The thyroid produces hormones that influence our body temperature, brain function, body energy expenditure, weight, digestive tract function, and heart rate. So, one might assume that if one of those functions was off, we’d look to our thyroid. After all, it’s estimated that 30 million of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid disease during their lifetime. Yet up to 50% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
Under normal conditions, the thyroid produces enough hormone to fuel the body and keep it running smoothly. If the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone it would slow down all of one’s body functions. This is called hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Symptoms may include fatigue, feeling cold, weight gain, and perhaps depression. If it produces too much hormone, it creates an overactive system called hyperthyroidism. Symptoms here can include a racing pulse, irritability and overheated.
There are other conditions that can affect the thyroid gland. Hashimoto’s thyroiditis can result from the body’s autoimmune system attacking the thyroid. Graves’ disease is another autoimmune disease but in this case, the thyroid produces too much hormone and confuse the gland. Again the body would experience hyperthyroidism symptoms but also additional signs such as visual problems, swollen, bulging red eyes, double vision, or in worst case, diminished visual acuity.
A communication breakdown between the thyroid and the pituitary glands can be caused by issues like a multinodular toxic goiter or a solitary toxic adenoma (a single nodule). These can cause hyperthyroidism producing thyroid hormone regardless of the messages sent from the pituitary. Thyroid imbalances can also be caused by nodules, however, not all nodules cause imbalance.
Nodules and goiters can be found with a simple neck examination. A TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) blood test can measure one’s thyroid gland’s condition. Sometimes this needs to be taken more than once over a period of time.
If having thyroid-related symptoms, a family history of thyroid disorders, or taking Lithium or Amiodarone, one should consider having a thyroid evaluation. For more information, check out: http://www.thyroidawareness.com/about-your-thyroid.