A butterfly-shaped gland located at the base of your neck, the thyroid is relatively small but packs a big metabolic punch when it comes to your body’s operating systems. Your thyroid influences the function of almost all of your body’s organs, including critical areas like your heart, brain, liver, and kidneys. Its malfunction or underperformance may cause a host of medical issues that may be misdiagnosed.
Thyroid glands produce thyroid hormones, which prompt your body to perform functions, like digest your food at a certain speed, or maintain organ function. The gland gets its energy from iodine, which is a necessary substance found in table salt, seafood, bread and milk. The thyroid takes iodine and converts it into thyroid hormones, which it then distributes throughout your body.
As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid works in on a team with your pituitary gland, a pea-sized gland located in your brain. Pituitary glands direct the thyroid to raise or lower the levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) based on your body’s needs at any given time. These glands, in conjunction with a few other glands in your body, provide the messages that the rest of your body needs to receive in order to function properly. But like any game of Telephone, sometimes wires get crossed and messages get lost in translation.
An “overactive thyroid” (hyperthyroidism) is when your thyroid produces too much TSH, the thyroid-stimulating hormone. It does not listen to the messages from other members of the endocrine system team, and keeps producing TSH even when instructed to stop. You may feel irritable, overheated, or have trouble sleeping. You may have unexplained weight loss or anxiety issues. An “underactive” thyroid (hypothyroidism) happens when your thyroid does not produce enough TSH, even though your body may be encouraging it to make more. You may feel tired, cold, and have unexpected weight gain. You may even feel depressed, as your body slows down production of all systems due to a lack of “instructions” from the TSH.
There are over 300 symptoms of thyroid problems, so knowing if you have a thyroid problem or not can be a bit tricky. Over 30 million Americans have thyroid disorders, but more than half of them don’t know it. Because the thyroid controls virtually every cell in your body, ensuring that it is functioning properly is an annual checkup that you should certainly get. Talk to your doctor about the best way to test for thyroid function and what you can do to control it. A simple blood test may make the difference in living the healthiest life you can.
Disclaimer: The contents of this article, including text and images, are for informational purposes only and do not constitute a medical service. Always seek the advice of a physician or other qualified health professional for medical advice, diagnosis, and treatment.