The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland situated at the front of the neck, just below the skin. It plays an important role in the endocrine system, which releases hormones that help to maintain many of your body’s functions. 

In honor of National Thyroid Awareness Month this January, we’re here to discuss the gland and some of the issues that can develop with it.

What Does the Thyroid Do?

The hormones released by the thyroid regulate several important bodily functions related to your metabolism, including:

·       Heart rate and breathing

·       Temperature

·       Weight

·       Menstrual cycles

·       Cholesterol

Your thyroid uses iodine from food sources to produce two primary hormones (thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), which are sent throughout the body to help control your metabolism. When thyroid issues develop, any number of functions in the body can get disrupted.

Common Thyroid Illnesses

There are several issues that can occur with the thyroid:

·       Goiter: Commonly caused by lack of iodine in the diet, a goiter can be an overall enlargement of the gland itself, or growths that form directly on the thyroid. Since iodized salt is commonly used in the U.S., goiters here are typically caused by other conditions that alter thyroid function instead of dietary factors. Depending on the nature of the goiter, it may be treated with medication to optimize hormone production, or surgery to remove all or part of the thyroid.

·       Hyperthyroidism: In this condition, the thyroid gland produces more thyroid hormones than the body needs. Hyperthyroidism can be caused by a number of underlying factors, including an autoimmune disorder known as Graves’ disease, excess iodine, and thyroid nodules. The condition may be treated with a variety of therapies, including antithyroid drugs, beta-blockers, or surgery.

·       Hypothyroidism: In this condition, the thyroid doesn’t produce sufficient thyroid hormones. An underactive thyroid can be caused by thyroid inflammation, congenital factors, or an autoimmune condition called Hashimoto’s disease. Hormone replacement medications are often used to treat hypothyroidism.

·       Thyroid Cancer: There are several types of thyroid cancer. Risk factors include being a woman, being Asian, being between the ages of 25 and 65, having previous radiation treatments to the head or neck, and having family members who have had thyroid disease. Patients may receive different types of treatments for thyroid cancer, including hormone treatment, chemotherapy, or targeted therapies.

Signs & Symptoms to Know

The signs and symptoms of problems with your thyroid are varied, since there are several conditions that can affect it. Moreover, since the thyroid contributes to so many bodily functions, symptoms of a dysfunction can be varied. 

In general, signs of an over- or underactive thyroid could include:

·       Difficulty sleeping

·       Fatigue

·       Anxiety or irritability

·       Weight loss or gain

·       Changes in your hair’s texture

·       Changes to your voice

·       Forgetfulness

·       Vision problems

·       Feeling sensitive to heat or cold temperatures

·       Changes in menstrual periods

Signs of thyroid cancer may include a lump or swelling in the neck, discomfort at the front of the neck, difficulty swallowing or breathing, and a persistent cough. These symptoms don’t always mean cancer is present, however, as they can also result from a goiter.

If you’re experiencing any potential thyroid symptoms you’d like to discuss with one of our providers, don’t hesitate to schedule an appointment. Our doctors are here to listen to your concerns and provide the resources you need to prioritize your wellness. Find out more about our team and services online, or call us directly at 762-356-4933.