The thyroid gland is a soft, butterfly shaped gland that is wrapped around the windpipe. Its job is to secrete thyroid hormones that help regulate metabolism and numerous other functions of the body, such as help the body make energy, keep the body’s temperature regulated and help assist other organs in their functions.
The thyroid gland manufactures two essential hormones – thyroxine (also known as T4) and tri-iodothyronine (also known as T3) – and issues them into the network of tiny blood vessels that run through the gland.
There is not much of a difference between T3 and T4. The numbers simply refer to the amount of atoms of iodine contained in the hormones. T3 is the more powerful while T4 is released by the thyroid in larger amounts, but is mostly converted to T3 in the liver and kidneys.
The effect of T3 and T4 is to:--increase the basal metabolic rate of almost all the cells in the body--increase the fat and carbohydrate metabolism--boost protein synthesis--increase heart rate and blood flow to other organs.
Thyroid hormones are also needed for normal development of organs such as the heart and the brain in children and for normal reproductive functioning.
Healthy Thyroid Activity: When the gland is healthy, it releases as much thyroid hormone as we need to keep our metabolism on an even keel. It knows just how much to release because of the feedback mechanisms between a gland in the base of the brain, called the pituitary, and a small part of the brain above the pituitary, called the hypothalamus.
Hypothyroidism: Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid fails to make and release enough T3 and T4 into the bloodstream and the metabolism slows to a crawl. This produces a range of physical and emotional changes, including: Lethargy, Depression, Tiredness, Constipation, Feeling cold (even on warm days), Dry skin or thickening of the skin, Difficulty concentrating, Hair loss or thinning of the eyebrows, Unusual weight gain, Puffiness of the face
Hyperthyroidism: Hyperthyroidism is when the thyroid becomes overactive and releases too much T3 and T4 into the blood. A person with too much circulating thyroid hormone finds they are living with a metabolism that is continually 'revved up'. That person notices the following symptoms: Weight loss (despite an increase of appetite), Rapid pulse, Nervousness, Tremor or shaking of the hands, Agitation and anxiety, Sweating and sensitivity to heat, Tiredness, Diarrhea
Grave’s Disease: The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is a condition called Graves' Disease. It's one of a group of disorders called autoimmune diseases in which the body's antibodies turn and attack the body's organs. Grave’s Disease is most common in women over the age of 20. However, the disorder may occur at any age and may affect men as well. Symptoms include: Anxiety/Nervousness/Fatigue/Insomnia, Breast enlargement (in men), Menstrual irregularities in women, Difficulty concentrating, Sweating and sensitivity to heat, Double Vision, Eyeballs that stick out (exophthalmos), Rapid or irregular heartbeat/Restlessness/ Tremors, Goiter (possible), Frequent bowel movements
Hashimoto’s Disease: Hashimoto's thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease in which the thyroid gland is attacked by a variety of cell- and antibody-mediated immune processes. It was the first disease to be recognized as an autoimmune disease. It was first described by the Japanese specialist Hakaru Hashimoto in Germany in 1912. Hashimoto's thyroiditis very often results in hypothyroidism with bouts of hyperthyroidism. Symptoms of Hashimoto's thyroiditis include: Weight gain, Depression, Mania, Sensitivity to heat and cold, Paresthesia, Fatigue, Panic attacks, Memory loss, High cholesterol, Constipation, Migraines, Muscle weakness, Cramps, Infertility, Hair loss. The thyroid gland may become firm, large, and lobulated in Hashimoto's thyroiditis, but changes in the thyroid can also be nonpalpable. Enlargement of the thyroid is due to lymphocytic infiltration and fibrosis rather than tissue hypertrophy. Physiologically, antibodies against thyroid peroxidase (TPO) and/or thyroglobulin cause gradual destruction of follicles in the thyroid gland. Accordingly, the disease can be detected clinically by looking for these antibodies in the blood.
Thyroid Storm: This condition is the rarest and deadliest form of thyroid problem. It is not common however; only 1-2% of patients with hyperthyroidism develop Thyroid Storm. During a Thyroid Storm, the heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature can become uncontrollable high. Whenever thyroid storm is suspected, the patient must immediately go to the Emergency Room, as this is a life-threatening condition that can develop and worsen quickly, and requires treatment within hours to avoid fatal complications such as a stroke or heart attack. Thyroid storm is more common in the elderly.
TALK TO YOUR DOCTOR! Statistics show that more than 25 million Americans have thyroid disease, and as many as half the people with thyroid problems don’t even know it! A simple blood test can give your doctor an idea if you are at risk for any type of thyroid problem. Sometimes physical signs can be a warning as well, such as swelling in the lower neck area. You may be referred to an Endocrinologist who can perform additional physical tests, such as an ultrasound or biopsy. Do not put it off... talk to your doctor today, because what you don’t know could kill you.
DISCLAIMER: The information on this website is in no way intended to replace the advice and care of a medical professional. The intention of the Thyroid Awareness Foundation is simply to educate the public on the presence and function of the thyroid and to promote thyroid health for you and your family.