6 Facts About Your Thyroid

Endocrinologists know these six facts about the thyroid, but do you? For more information, choose Philip Rabito today.

The endocrine system is the system of glands in the body that produce hormones. The body produces over 50 different hormones that are responsible for growth, development, metabolism, sleep, mood, and reproduction. The primary glands within the endocrine system include the thyroid gland, adrenal glands, pituitary gland, and pancreas. The endocrine system also includes the testes, in males, and ovaries, in females. Because of the diversity in the roles hormones have in the body, endocrinologists are often knowledgeable about a wide range of problems, such as weight loss, nutrition, fertility, and diabetes. One potential source of problems that gets little attention is the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland that encircles the Adam’s apple in the neck. Here are six facts about your thyroid and its possible disorders: 


The Thyroid Produces Two Primary Hormones

While hormones such as testosterone, estrogen, and insulin are well known, the hormones produced by the thyroid gland are less recognizable. The thyroid primarily produces two hormones, triiodothyronine (also known as T3) and thyroxine (also known as T4). Endocrinologists have found that the primary role of T3 and T4 is to regulate metabolism. However, T3 and T4 have also been linked to regulation of menstrual periods in women and mood. Because T3 and T4 regulate metabolism, correcting a hormonal imbalance can help in a weight loss program.

The Thyroid Requires Iodine

The T3 and T4 hormones are created by the thyroid gland using dietary iodine. This is why iodine deficiency is associated with thyroid disfunction. In fact, iodine is added to table salt specifically to counter the effects of iodine deficiency on the thyroid. Natural sources of iodine include seaweed, lean fish and shellfish (such as cod, tuna, and shrimp), some dairy products, and eggs. People who consume diets rich in natural sources of iodine may be able to use non-iodized salt. Iodine deficiency can cause goiter, an enlargement of the thyroid gland, and hypothyroidism.

The Endocrine System Works Together to Regulate Thyroid Hormones

Within the endocrine system, the hypothalamus and pituitary glands work with the thyroid to regulate levels of T3 and T4. The hypothalamus produces a hormone, called TRH, to signal the thyroid hormone levels to the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland, in turn, uses this information to produce a hormone, called TSH, to signal the thyroid to increase or decrease the production of T3 and T4. As a result of this complex relationship, abnormal levels of T3 or T4 may signal problems with the hypothalamus, the pituitary gland, or the thyroid gland.

Hyperthyroidism

When there is too much T3 and T4 in the blood, it is called “hyperthyroidism.” Hyperthyroidism can be caused by Grave’s disease, which causes the thyroid gland to produce excess T3 and T4. Hyperthyroidism can also be caused by growths on the thyroid gland and inflammation of the thyroid gland. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Enlarged thyroid gland
  • Anxious, hyperactive, or nervous mood
  • Sensitivity to heat
  • Tremors
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Weight loss
  • Light menstruation in women

Endocrinologists treat hyperthyroidism with medication to slow the production of T3 and T4 or medication to block the effects of T3 and T4 in the body. In rare cases, all or part of the thyroid gland may be removed.



Hypothyroidism

When there is too little T3 and T4 in the blood, it is called “hypothyroidism.” Hypothyroidism can be caused by Hashimoto’s disease, which is an autoimmune disorder that causes the body to attack the thyroid tissue. Hypothyroidism can also be caused by injury or removal of the thyroid gland and exposure to large amounts of iodine. Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Enlarged thyroid gland
  • Fatigue
  • Sensitivity to cold
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Difficulty concentrating and forgetfulness
  • Weight gain
  • Heavy menstruation in women

Endocrinologists treat hypothyroidism with a synthetic form of T4 to bring the hormone up to normal levels in the blood.



Thyroid Cancer

While thyroid cancer is relatively rare, the number of diagnosed cases has increased in recent years. Some attribute this increase to the ability of endocrinologists to better diagnose cases. Thyroid cancer is more common among women than among men. Moreover, those who exposed to elevated levels of radiation, such as nuclear power plant workers, are at increased risk of thyroid cancer.

In sum, a healthy thyroid gland is essential to metabolism, mood, and reproduction. While hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can disrupt the body, endocrinologists can treat most underlying causes. Know these fundamental facts about your thyroid to help inform any of your medical treatments.

Philip Rabito, MD

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