What You Need To Know About Your Thyroid

Part of the endocrine system, the thyroid is a gland that secretes hormones responsible for many different systems in the body. A healthy thyroid gland is vital to overall health and well-being, but many people struggle to keep their thyroid working properly. If you suspect you are suffering from thyroid problems, it’s important to learn a little more about the thyroid’s function.

What Does the Thyroid Do?

The thyroid secretes hormones that affect many different areas of the body. These include:

  • Heart
  • Brain development and function
  • Eyes
  • Skin and hair
  • Weight
  • Metabolism
  • Intestine function

Here's how the body uses thyroid hormone: First, the pituitary gland checks the amount of thyroid hormone in the blood, then signals for the thyroid to produce more or less, as needed, for a balanced amount. The thyroid uses iodine to make thyroid hormone. Iodine comes from seafood and dairy products and is absorbed through the intestine to be used by the thyroid. If something occurs in this process to interfere with the production of thyroid hormone, a thyroid disorder occurs.

Common Thyroid Disorders

Thyroid problems occur when the thyroid either produces too many or too few of the hormones it is responsible for. These problems can affect anyone, but they are more common in women. Both an overactive and an underactive thyroid have a significant impact on an individual's health.

An overactive thyroid can cause irritability and vision problems. People who have too much thyroid hormone may experience increased bowel movements and increased sweating. Hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid, can cause anxiety, nervousness and weight loss.

Underactive thyroid, a condition known as hypothyroidism, can cause constipation, intolerance to cold and weight gain. People with this problem may have dry skin and dry hair.

Both types of thyroid disorders can cause fatigue and menstrual concerns.

Thyroid nodules, or a lump or swelling in the thyroid gland, is another problem associated with the gland. Nodules do not affect the thyroid hormone and are typically not dangerous, but around 10 percent can develop into cancer.

Thyroid cancer is the most common endocrine cancer and can affect people in all stages of life. It has no symptoms in its early stage, but can be easily treated if it is caught before it spreads outside of the gland.

What to Do if You Have a Thyroid Disorder

If you have a thyroid disorder, you will be prescribed medication. Take these medications as directed, and always be aware of drug interactions. Work to eat a balanced diet and get enough sleep and exercise to maintain good overall health. Regularly check with your health care provider to inspect for nodules, which must be monitored.

Because the thyroid gland controls so many aspects of the body, proper thyroid control can be a challenge. If you suspect that you are having trouble with your thyroid, or want to ensure that your thyroid is working properly, you need the services of an endocrinologist. To find an endocrinologist near you, use our helpful physician referral directory.

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