What is the thyroid?
The thyroid gland is a small organ that’s located in the front, at the base of the neck, wrapped around the windpipe (trachea). It’s shaped like a butterfly and is a major part of the endocrine system which controls the metabolism. Thyroid hormones help the body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.
When your thyroid doesn’t work properly, it can impact your entire body. If your body makes too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism) your body uses energy too quickly and increase your metabolism and can make many of the functions of your body speed up. You may experience side effects that feel like having too much of a stimulant, initially having lots of energy but then crashing or feeling tired. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism are often increased sweating, increased heart rate, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, unintentional weight loss, as well as thinning skin and brittle hair. For women, the menstrual cycle may slow or become lighter than normal.
What are common thyroid disorders?
Hyperthyroidism: Too much thyroid hormone.
Hypothyroidism: Too little thyroid hormone.
An underactive thyroid gland produces too little thyroid hormone to keep your body running properly. This can develop into a condition called hypothyroidism which can make you gain weight, feel tired and cause sensitivity to cold temperatures. Other symptoms of hypothyroidism are forgetfulness, constipation, dry skin, and even depression. Both men and women are affected, and you can be born with a thyroid imbalance, or you can develop it later. Any issue with the thyroid is serious and needs to be treated by a healthcare provider because the thyroid regulates hormones that affect our bodies. It is a good idea to get your thyroid levels checked regularly, and it is usually done with the blood work that is drawn for yearly physicals, or sooner if any symptoms are present. Unfortunately, there is no cure for hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism, and most people have it for life. Hypothyroidism is treated with replacement thyroxine in pill form since your body is not making enough thyroid hormone. It is important to take the proper dosage of supplemental thyroxine and as indicated by blood tests, it may be adjusted by your medical provider. The treatment of hyperthyroidism is typically assessed and managed by an Endocrinologist and since your thyroid is making too much thyroxine hormone, one common treatment may be an anti-thyroid drug such as Methimazole. Another interesting way that hyperthyroidism is treated is by destroying some of the thyroid cells, thereby lessening the amount of hormone that the thyroid can make. This is done by taking a small dose of radioactive iodine, in pill form. The thyroid needs iodine to make thyroid hormone, so when it takes the radioactive iodine, those cells are destroyed. This either causes the thyroid hormone to return to normal levels or improves the imbalance or occasionally it may lead to hypothyroidism.
Along with a medical examination, the tests that are usually used to diagnose thyroid disorders are blood tests for TSH and T4. The thyroid hormone that is being checked in blood lab tests is Thyroxine. Specifically, your provider may look at your TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) made by the pituitary gland, or your T4 and T3 levels. There are also other blood tests but those are not as common, such as the Free T3, reverse T3, and the Thyroid Antibodies Test.
TSH levels will typically tell a provider if there is either an overage of or lack of thyroid hormone in your blood.
T4 is the main thyroid hormone in your blood and can signal how the thyroid gland is working and more specifically pinpoint if it is hyper or hypo.
The Thyroid Antibody Test helps to diagnose autoimmune thyroid disorders like Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis and Graves’ disease.
These tests are used to begin the process of diagnosing and treating thyroid hormone imbalances.
It is important that if you have noticed a change in your metabolism, have begun having some of the listed symptoms or you have a family history of thyroid disorders, you make an appointment to talk to your Med First provider. They can answer your questions, order needed tests, and even refer you to specialists if needed.