As we embark on the new year we tend to focus on new or renewed goals. From health and fitness to personal and career aspirations, we sometimes overlook the ‘not-so-obvious’ concerns that could be missed. While the thyroid might be a smaller gland, the issues that arise can sometimes present bigger problems. Let’s look at some facts and common problems to help spread awareness.
What is the Thyroid Gland?
Located at the base of your neck, the thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped organ that controls metabolism by releasing hormones. These hormones regulate functions vital to the body, including, to name some:
- Body Temperature
- Body Weight
- Central and peripheral nervous systems
- Cholesterol levels
- Muscle Strength
How does it work?
As part of the endocrine system, the thyroid and other glands produce, store, and release hormones into the body’s bloodstream and eventually reach the body’s cells. Using iodine from food intake, the thyroid gland makes two main hormones:
- Triiodothyronine (T3)
- Thyroxine (T4)
The balance of T3 and T4 levels are important; they are maintained by the communication of two glands in the brain, the pituitary gland, and the hypothalamus. High T3 and T4 levels lead the pituitary gland to release less TSH, thyroid-stimulating hormone, which is produced by the hypothalamus gland. Conversely, low levels of T3 and T4 will cause the pituitary gland to release more TSH.
What could go wrong?
While there are many disorders of the thyroid gland that can develop at any age and be caused by a variety of things, for example, injury, dietary intake, and disease, the most common problems are:
- Too much or too little thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism, respectively).
- Abnormal thyroid growth
- Nodules or lumps within the thyroid
- Thyroid cancer
What should you look for?
The most common symptoms of thyroid issues are:
- Hypothyroidism: tiredness, feeling cold, weight gain, poor concentration, depression.
- Hyperthyroidism: weight loss, heat intolerance, anxiety, and, sometimes, sore and gritty eyes.
- Nodules or swellings – these lumps can stop the thyroid gland from working properly, or are simply uncomfortable.
- Difficulty swallowing (goiter/thyroid nodules)
- Vision issues (Graves’ disease)
While symptoms could present more mildly, a simple blood test from your doctor can confirm if thyroid issues are the problem; some thyroid issues can be treated with daily medications and should always be discussed with your doctor.