Most people probably do not realize the profound effect the thyroid gland has in our daily lives, but the thyroid gland has an effect on nearly all the metabolic processes in the body.
What the Thyroid Gland Does
The main function of the thyroid gland is to produce, store and emit thyroid hormones and there are two – 1-thyroxine and 1-triiodothyronine. A very important element in these two hormones is iodine, a trace element. The thyroid is able to collect iodine from the blood plasma and then use it for the production of the thyroid hormones. These hormones are eventually released into the circulating blood.
The thyroid gland is dependent on a thyroid-stimulating hormone produced by certain cells in the pituitary gland in order to function. This thyrotroptin or TSH is controlled by the thyroid hormones in the blood. If you have a decreased amount of thyroid hormones in the blood, it will increase the serum TSH. On the other side, if you have an excess of thyroid hormones, it will decrease the TSH. For normal thyroid function, one needs the TSH and thyroid hormones to remain within the normal range. This can be a very tricky balancing act, as the body is very sensitive to even a small amount of change in thyroid hormone balance.
Thyroid dysfunction is due to either increased or decreased emission of the thyroid hormones. If there is an increase in thyroid hormones, this is called hyperthyroidism. A decrease in thyroid hormones is hypothyroidism. Another dysfunction of the thyroid is incident of thyroid enlargements, or goiters. This can be just enlargement of the gland itself or benign or malignant nodules.
The rate of metabolism in the body is regulated by the thyroid hormones, as is heat production and oxygen utilization. Thyroid hormones also provide the specific proteins to different organs and tissues. Due of the importance of all this, problems with the thyroid gland can have a very significant effect to the body.
Symptoms and Treatments of Thyroid Disorders
Hypothyroidism is the term meaning thyroid hormones are decreased and therefore, your metabolic state slows. Fatigue and sleepiness are common symptoms, along with the feeling body temperature is low. Hair may become brittle and people with hypothyroidism may also have a slowed mental function and a hoarse voice. Muscle cramping and constipation are also common symptoms. The skin around the eyes can swell. This condition also produces higher concentrations of cholesterol in the blood, making the person more at risk for heart disease.
Fortunately, treatment for hypothyroidism is relatively simple. Thyroid hormone replacement therapy once a day in the form of a pill can restore the thyroid hormone level to a normal level and ease all the symptoms. This treatment will also prevent long-term complications.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when extreme amounts of thyroid hormones circulate and affect the tissues and organs. With this condition, the most common symptoms are fatigue and feeling warm, heart palpitations, nervousness and an increase in the number of bowel movements. Generally, the skin is moist, too. The body’s metabolic rate is too high. This causes a serious risk for abnormal heart rhythms called atrial fibrillation. This condition will also cause loss of calcium from the bones. One of the causes of hyperthyroidism is benign thyroid tumors, called Plummer’s disease. Another cause is thyroiditis, which can be autoimmune thyroiditis or thyroiditis caused by a viral infection. Grave’s disease is another common cause for hyperthyroidism.
The cause for hyperthyroidism determines the treatment. For instance, for Grave’s disease treatment might include antithyroid drugs. Sometimes radioactive iodine is used and has been proven to be safe and effective. In extreme cases, surgery is required to remove functioning thyroid tumors. There are times when the only solution is a thyroidectomy or surgical removal of the thyroid.
Goiters and nodules are another cause of thyroid dysfunction. A goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland and is a sign of disease. For instance, a goiter could be a sign of Hashimoto’s thyroiditis or Grave’s disease. Sometimes a goiter is caused by nodules in the thyroid. These nodules can be cysts or benign or malignant tumors. Your doctor will determine if the nodule is benign or malignant. If the nodule is malignant a thyroidectomy is often performed. If the nodules are benign, treatment depends on the cause of the nodules, their size and how fast they grow. Sometimes nodules do not require any treatment at all. Others, however, may require surgical removal due to problems with breathing or swallowing.
You should see your doctor immediately if you have any symptoms of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism or if your thyroid is enlarged. Most thyroid problems are manageable when properly diagnosed and treated.