Most of us have heard about the thyroid gland, but we may not realize the vital role it plays in our bodies. Therefore, with the hopes of educating people about the thyroid, we would also like to help raise Thyroid Awareness throughout this month of January.
Now, let us delve deeper into understanding the significance of the thyroid gland.
THYROID GLAND ANATOMY
The thyroid gland is located at the front of the neck just below the Adam’s apple (larynx). The butterfly-shaped lobes are located on either side of the windpipe (trachea). Brownish-red in color, the thyroid is rich with blood vessels. Nerves important for voice quality also pass through the thyroid.
HOW DOES THE THYROID AFFECT THE BODY?
The thyroid gland is part of the endocrine system. The gland releases hormones into the bloodstream to control your metabolism, which is the primary way your body uses energy. In addition to metabolism, the hormones it releases also help with bone growth, brain development, heart rate, digestion, muscle functioning, body temperature, menstrual cycles, and more. The thyroid can also produce more hormones when needed, such as to help increase body temperature or when a woman is pregnant. If the thyroid gland produces too much or too little hormones some common thyroid disorders can occur, including Hashimoto’s disease and Graves’ disease.
WHAT IS THE FUNCTION OF THYROID HORMONE?
The thyroid secretes several hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones. The main hormone is Thyroxine which is also known as T4. Thyroid hormones act throughout the body, influencing metabolism, growth development, and body temperature. During infancy and childhood, adequate thyroid hormone is crucial for brain development.
WHO TELLS THE THYROID TO PRODUCE AND RELEASE HORMONES?
The signal comes from a small gland located at the bottom of our brain called the pituitary gland. This gland produces and sends out a hormone called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). TSH then tells the thyroid gland how much hormones to produce and secrete. TSH levels in your blood are rising and falling depending on your body’s needs to produce more or less thyroid hormones.
There is a third factor involved in this communication. The pituitary gland responds either directly to the thyroid hormones in the blood, but it also responds to signals from the hypothalamus, which sits above the pituitary gland as part of your brain. This whole network is also referred to as the hypothalamic-pituitary-thyroid axis (HPT) and it adapts to metabolic changes and your body’s needs.
THYROID GLAND DISEASE
There are several disorders associated with the thyroid gland with most problems concerning the production of thyroid hormones. Either the thyroid gland produces too much hormone (called hyperthyroidism) or the thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone (called hypothyroidism), resulting in your body using energy faster or slower than it should.
Typical symptoms for hyperthyroidism is weight loss, fast heart rate, high irritability/nervousness, muscle weakness and tremors, infrequent menstrual periods, sleep problems, eye irritations and heat sensitivity. Symptoms for hypothyroidism is the contrary of hyperthyroidism such as weight gain, slower heart rate, fatigue, more frequent and stronger menstrual periods, forgetfulness, dry skin and hair, hoarse voice and intolerance to cold. In addition, hypothyroidism is often accompanied by an enlargement of the thyroid gland known as goitre.
It’s not clear what causes thyroid cancer but may involve a combination of genetic and environmental factors. Thyroid cancer occurs when cells in your thyroid undergo genetic changes. The mutations allow the cells to grow and multiply rapidly which ultimately becomes a tumor. The abnormal cells can invade nearby tissue and can spread (metastasize) to other parts of the body.
Thyroid cancer typically doesn’t cause any signs or symptoms early in the disease. As thyroid cancer grows, it may cause:
- A lump (nodule) felt through the skin on your neck
- Changes to your voice, including increasing hoarseness
- Difficulty swallowing
- Pain in your neck and throat
- Swollen lymph nodes in your neck
Types of thyroid cancer include: Papillary, Follicular, Anaplastic, and Medullary thyroid cancer.
WHAT FOODS ARE BAD FOR THYROID?
Dietary substances that may affect thyroid function includes goitrogens. These compounds get their name from the term goiter, which is an enlarged thyroid gland that may occur with hypothyroidism.
People with hypothyroidism should avoid:
- Processed foods
- Supplements like selenium and zinc (unless a healthcare provider has advised you otherwise)
HOW TO PERFORM A SELF-CHECK
If you think you or your loved one may have an undiagnosed thyroid condition, you can start by doing a self-check of you (or your loved one’s) neck for lumps.
Hold a hand mirror towards your neck, above the collarbones where you can see the area below your Adam’s apple.
- Tilt the head back, and take a sip of water.
- Swallow the water, and watch your neck for signs of bulging.
- Repeat the steps a few times to make sure you don’t see obvious signs of bulging.
- If you discover a bulge, nodule or an enlarged gland, contact your primary care physician.
DIAGNOSES AND TREATMENT
The only way to know for sure if you have thyroid disease of any type is to have a blood test that measures your thyroid hormone levels. To confirm whether there is a thyroid concern, your physician may perform a thyroid-stimulating hormone test. This blood test measures whether the gland is working properly. Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism is often treated with medication, iodine, or hormones, and the other conditions can be addressed with therapy or surgery. In addition, nerve monitoring systems like the Medtronic NIM-Response 3.0 are commonly used during a thyroidectomy.
Raising awareness about the thyroid is important because it plays a significant role in the human body. We hope that by publicizing information about thyroid diseases will help educate people and encourage them to visit their physician for a simple blood test to determine if they need treatment. You can also visit the American Thyroid Association for more information and thyroid patient support resources. Furthermore, if you know anyone else who could be dealing with thyroid gland disease, make sure to show them the love and support they need.