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Thyroid Gland: What Is It and How Does It Relate to Your Health?

We pay attention to things like our heart and lungs because we know they’re essential to our health. And when our muscles and bones are out of whack, they’re painful, so we can’t ignore them.

But an oft-silent danger is in your throat, and if you don’t take care of your thyroid gland, it can wreak havoc on your health.

What’s a “Thyroid Gland”?

Your body’s organs are divided into systems responsible for pumping blood, breathing, and excreting waste. The endocrine system performs another important job we frequently forget about: hormone regulation.

Your thyroid is an endocrine gland located in your neck, slightly below the Adam’s apple. The gland consists of two lobes: the right and left. Visualize each one as the size of half a plum, joined together by your isthmus tissue and sitting alongside your trachea (windpipe).

The thyroid makes the hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Hormones control our emotions and so much more. Without the right levels of these hormones, all the cells in your body can become dysfunctional.

T3 and T4 regulate your body’s metabolic rate, which controls the functions of your heart, digestive system, and muscles. It also aids in how your brain develops and how well your bones stay in shape over time. For T3 and T4 to operate correctly, they must have iodine, which comes from your diet.

The cells that produce these hormones pull the iodine from your bloodstream and absorb it, then send it into the newly created thyroid hormone. When they don’t get enough iodine, it can result in a thyroid disorder.

Understanding Thyroid Disorders

When it’s operating correctly, your thyroid produces the right number of hormones required to keep your metabolism in balance. Other glands, such as the pituitary, secrete hormones that are constantly circulating throughout your blood. But the T4 hormones change how many there are in the bloodstream at any given time.

All is fine if the T3 and T4 hormones are stable. However, your diet and other factors impact iodine absorption, which disrupts the rest of the hormones and how they circulate throughout your body.

These hormones can be overproduced or underproduced by the thyroid gland. Hyperthyroidism is a disorder where too much hormone is created. Hypothyroidism means your body isn’t producing enough of it.

With hypothyroidism, your metabolism isn’t working fast enough. Symptoms include weight gain or inability to lose weight, slow heart rate, and chronic fatigue. You may have menstrual periods that are overly strong or come more frequently than every 28 days. You’ll likely feel forgetful and always cold. Chances are, your skin and hair will be dry, too.

When you have hyperthyroidism, the opposite occurs. Your metabolism is working so quickly that you see unexplained weight loss, no matter how much you eat. Your heart races, you’re inexplicably nervous and irritable all the time, and you have trouble sleeping. You may notice a sensitivity to heat, tremors, and weakness in your muscles.

Who Gets Thyroid Problems?

While anyone who hasn’t had their thyroid removed can end up with this disorder, hyper- and hypothyroidism are more common in older women. Even babies can have thyroid disorders, although it’s rare.

Many people develop thyroid disorders, and, depending on the kind, it could be temporary or permanent. If you have symptoms of hypo- or hypothyroidism, talk to your doctor. They may refer you to a specialist. However, thyroid specialists aren’t available everywhere, so you may have to travel if you live in a small city. For instance, if you’re in Pleasant Grove,Utah, an endocrinologist is nearby.

What Will an Endocrinologist Look For?

So you think you might have a thyroid disorder, and you’re considering scheduling an appointment with a specialist. You’re concerned about what to expect during your visit, which is completely normal.

While you’re at the endocrinologist’s office, your doctor will evaluate your neck to look for signs that the thyroid isn’t working right. Physical changes, such as lumps, goiters, or changes in the size of the organ, are telltale signs. The specialist can use a stethoscope to listen to blood flow, and if it’s flowing too quickly, you may have something called a bruit. If your heart rate is too slow or too fast, that’s another symptom.

Your reflexes can be impaired with thyroid disorders, so expect to have a reflex test performed. Hypersensitivity may mean hyperthyroidism is going on, while hyposensitivity is a sign of hypothyroidism.

External signs of a thyroid condition include symptoms like hair loss, weight gain or loss (excessively), unnatural movements, swelling, tremors and shaky hands, and yellowed skin (jaundice).

What Kind of Treatment is There for Thyroid Disorder?

A diagnosis of a thyroid disorder is a good step on the path to better health. No one wants any kind of medical condition, but with the right treatment, you can get back in control of your body.

The suggested treatment protocol will depend on your condition’s severity and other health issues. Today, we have a variety of medications and thyroid hormones that can easily address minor and moderate problems. If your disorder is extensive, you may need surgery to reduce the size of the thyroid if it’s overproducing hormones. Thyroid replacement hormones like levothyroxine are suggested many times for hypothyroidism.

Changing your diet and exercising help restore your hormones back to their natural balance. You can start working on this while you’re waiting for your endocrinologist appointment. Some foods are linked to hypothyroidism, such as those high in iodine and selenium. Fish, dairy, eggs, tuna, and legumes are excellent starting points as you get to know your new condition.

Diet and exercise alone don’t always fix the problem. If you’re diagnosed with a thyroid disorder, follow your doctor’s orders and keep up with your specialist visits. You may be able to make it a temporary issue instead of a lifelong condition. If you ignore it and the problem worsens, you could end up needing surgery. Don’t take the chance; your thyroid is integral to the overall balance of your entire body.

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