January is (among other things) Thyroid Awareness Month. Here is some basic information about this fascinating little endocrine (hormone secreting) gland.
The thyroid gland sits at the base of the neck under the Adam’s Apple. Normally it can’t be seen or felt. The thyroid gland controls metabolism of the body through the release of thyroid hormone.
If there is an overactive thyroid, the system speeds up. The symptoms include rapid pulse, tremor, weight loss, loose bowel movements and heat intolerance (feeling hot all the time). If the thyroid is underactive, the symptoms are the opposite and include weight gain, sluggishness, cold intolerance, slow pulse, thinning hair and constipation. The symptoms may be subtle and not noticed.
Women more commonly have thyroid irregularities than men.
There is a simple blood test to detect the level of your thyroid activity.
Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) is fairly common and often just indicates a sluggish thyroid gland that can be treated with a daily, inexpensive medication. Hypothyroidism is usually a benign condition of slow onset.
Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) can be more serious. There are many different causes of hyperthyroidism, and it can come on fairly suddenly (within weeks). The treatment of hyperthyroidism depends on the cause and requires closer attention to the amount of thyroid hormone in your body. Sometimes surgery is indicated.
There is a growing list of medications that can affect the thyroid gland. This is something that your doctor can investigate.
Because the thyroid affects many different organ systems (heart, bowels, appetite, nerves), the diagnosis is often not clear at first. The symptoms can mimic other conditions.