What Is the Thyroid?

The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low on the front of your neck. Brownish-red in color, the thyroid is rich with blood vessels and facilitates vital functions. Nerves important for voice quality pass through the thyroid. Thyroid gland secretes several hormones that are collectively called thyroid hormones.

Thyroxine, also known as T4, is one of the most important hormones secreted by the thyroid. Thyroid hormones influence metabolism, growth, development and body temperature, and they are crucial for brain development during infancy and childhood as well.

When the thyroid is its normal size, you can not feel it. However, abnormal production of thyroid hormones causes problems.

Hyperthyroidism

This condition occurs due to overproduction of thyroid hormones and presents itself in various ways such as Grave’s disease, toxic adenomas, subacute thyroiditis and pituitary gland malfunctions.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism occurs due to underproduction of thyroid hormones and can present itself in different ways such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, excessive amounts of iodide and may even lead to the removal of the thyroid gland.

Symptoms of Thyroid Disease

Certain common symptoms of thyroid disease are:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Intolerance to Cold
  • Muscle Aches and Cramps
  • Constipation
  • Weight Gain or Difficulty Losing Weight
  • Poor Appetite
  • Goiter (Enlarged Thyroid Gland)
  • Dry, Rough Skin
  • Coarse Hair or Hair Loss
  • Eye and Face Swelling
  • Deeper and/or Hoarse Voice
  • Enlarged Tongue
  • Irregular or Heavy Menstrual Periods
  • Depression
  • Memory Loss
  • Slowed Thinking and Mental Activity
  • Increased Blood Cholesterol Levels

Thyroid Tests

Some tests to evaluate thyroid function include the TSH test, T4 tests and T3 tests.

TSH Tests

A TSH Test is one of the best ways to initially check the thyroid function via a blood sample. Changes in TSH can serve as an early warning. A high TSH level indicates that the thyroid gland is not making enough thyroid hormone, whereas a low TSH level indicates that the thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone.

T4 Tests

T4 is the main form of thyroid hormone circulating in the blood. A Total T4 test measures the bound and free hormone, whereas Free T4 measures what is not bound and can enter and affect the body tissues.

T3 Tests

They are often useful to diagnose hyperthyroidism or to determine the severity of the hyperthyroidism. Patients who have hyperthyroid will have an elevated T3 level.

Free T3

Measuring free T3 is possible. However, it is often not reliable and, therefore, not typically helpful.

Reverse T3

Reverse T3 is a biologically inactive protein that is structurally very similar to T3. Some reverse T3 is produced normally in the body but is then rapidly degraded. Reverse T3 measurements often do not help determine whether hypothyroidism exists or not.

Other tests for thyroid disorders include thyroid antibody tests and non-blood tests such as radioactive iodine uptake.

Treatment of Thyroid Disease

There are various treatments for thyroid. You should consult your doctor for the best suited treatment for your condition.

Hypothyroidism

For most people, hypothyroidism is quite easy to treat. One of the most effective methods is to take thyroid hormone pills. The medication is a pure synthetic form of T4 made in laboratories to be an exact replacement for the T4 that the human thyroid gland normally secretes.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism can be treated with medicines or with the intake of radioactive iodine. In severe cases, the thyroid gland may be surgically removed.

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