Impactful things sometimes come in small packages. The thyroid gland is around 5 cm but affects every organ in the body. It can be the cause of your sudden weight gain or loss or why you are consistently tired lately. Knowing about your thyroid gland, what it does for your body, and your current levels can help you create a game plan for optimizing its functions, which will be another step in taking control of your health. Let’s dive in!
What is the thyroid gland?
The thyroid gland is a small butterfly-shaped gland that controls your metabolism and other functions of the endocrine system. It is primarily responsible for turning food into energy for your entire body. The thyroid gland is located in the front of your throat just above your trachea.
How does the thyroid gland work?
The thyroid gland works by producing and releasing hormones throughout your body. Some of the hormones are thyroxine (T4); triiodothyronine (T3); reverse triiodothyronine (RT3); and calcitonin.
These hormones are produced and activated by iodine in your diet. Too little or too much iodine can affect the levels of hormones your thyroid makes, causing serious health implications to various bodily functions, including:
- Body temperature
- Skin and bone maintenance
- And more!
Like many organs and glands in your body, your brain is the primary controller, secreting thyroid-releasing hormone (TRH) which then stimulates other hormones, and so on.
As a part of the endocrine system, the thyroid gland’s hormones affect almost every other bodily system including:
- Your cardiovascular system – Your thyroid affects every function of the heart (pump rate, strength, vigor of contractions).
- Your nervous system – a dysfunctional thyroid could cause numbness, tingling, pain, or a sense of burning in your nerves.
- Your digestive system – Your thyroid even affects how food moves throughout your body.
- Your reproductive system – Irregular menstrual periods and infertility may be effects of a dysfunctional thyroid.
What are the early warning signs of thyroid problems?
Because the thyroid affects almost every organ and every system in your body, it can cause major health problems that greatly impact your life. Thyroid problems can cause weight gain or loss, slow or rapid heart rate, high blood pressure, hair loss, depression, and irregular menstrual periods, to name a few. It can also cause the following potentially debilitating health conditions:
- Hypothyroidism (underactive)
- Hyperthyroidism (overactive)
- Goiter (enlarged thyroid)
- Thyroid cancer
Affecting around 10 million Americans, hypothyroidism is caused when your thyroid is not producing enough thyroid hormones which slows down your metabolism to a dangerous level. Autoimmune diseases such as Hashimoto’s, iodine deficiency, and over-treatment of hyperthyroidism are some of the causes.
An overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) is caused by your thyroid producing and releasing more thyroid hormone than your body needs. Although it is a serious condition that speeds up your metabolism, it is treatable. Approximately 1% (3 million+) of Americans over 12 have hyperthyroidism.
A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. Affecting around 5% of the U.S. population, goiters can be caused by a variety of factors including:
- Your thyroid is not making enough hormones for your body, so it overcompensates by growing larger.
- Iodine (necessary for making thyroid hormones) is severely lacking in your diet.
- Certain medications such as lithium may cause sporadic goiters although how is uncertain.
Although all cancer is serious and life-threatening, thyroid cancer treatments are usually very successful. Thyroid cancer begins in your thyroid tissues, usually in the papillary cells, and if not treated, can spread rapidly throughout the body. Fortunately, the warning signs usually present early, which aids early diagnosis and early treatment.
Traditional thyroid treatment
Thyroid conditions are treated in a variety of ways which include medication, surgery, radiation therapy, and chemotherapy. The specific condition and severity will determine the treatment plan.
- Medication – From antithyroid medications that block your thyroid’s ability to make hormones to radioactive iodine that damages thyroid cells to completely destruct your thyroid gland, medication is one of the top treatments for thyroid conditions, especially hypo and hyperthyroidism.
- Surgery – Surgery options include a lobectomy (partial removal of the thyroid gland) and a thyroidectomy (complete removal of the thyroid gland). Both are usually the first treatment option for thyroid cancer.
- Radiation therapy and chemotherapy – Although most cases of thyroid cancer don’t require them, radiation and chemotherapy kill cancer cells and prevent them from growing and spreading.
Of course, thyroid treatment may not be needed, and the only way to find out is to test your current levels.
How do you test thyroid levels?
There are a few common tests that check for the health of your thyroid. Blood tests that measure your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) or your levels of T3 and T4 (thyroid hormones) are your first line of offense when it comes to evaluating your thyroid health. However, thyroid scans and thyroid ultrasounds can also be used as backup tests when the other screens are abnormal.
If you suspect that you may have a thyroid condition, you should speak with a healthcare provider about thyroid tests and contact your local ARCpoint Labs. Our comprehensive thyroid panel is the perfect test for revealing your current health so that you and your doctor can discuss the treatment options that would be best for you.
Call ARCpoint Labs today!