The thyroid: a tiny gland that controls so much

If you’re a woman, irregular periods or missed periods altogether are also some of the symptoms that may also point to a thyroid problem. Photo: Pexels

(Tina Dawn/ VM-Med) — For such a small gland in our bodies, it’s extraordinary the power that the thyroid can yield. The influence of the thyroid gland on our endocrine system, our overall physical and mental health, and our bodily functions is major. The essential role of this butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of our neck is to regulate the metabolism of cells in our body.

The thyroid gland basically determines the speed in which our cells and our organs can function, and therefore controls our body’s metabolism and the functioning of different organs by releasing hormones. These, in turn, influence, among other things, heart rate, muscle strength, memory, weight, energy level. It also influences how we perform mentally.

Because it controls so much, the slightest imbalance or malfunction of the thyroid can affect our daily functioning in instrumental ways and make us feel “off.” The thyroid can be affected by many diseases (hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, nodule, etc.). In response, there are different treatments and means of prevention to treat them, among them thyroid surgery, thyroid nodule removal, or thyroid gland removal.

How can you tell you have a thyroid problem?

Many tell-tale signs may indicate thyroid problems. Sudden weight loss, fast heartbeat, heart palpitations, anxiety, trembling in your hands, having an enlarged thyroid gland or a goiter.

If you’re a woman, irregular periods or missed periods altogether are also some of the symptoms that may also point to a thyroid problem.

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism, also called underactive thyroid, is when the thyroid gland doesn’t make enough thyroid hormones to meet your body’s needs. As a result, you suddenly lack energy, and your body starts slowing down. Other symptoms include gaining weight, dry skin, or reduced tolerance to cold. Constipation, depression, muscle weakness and brain fog are additional symptoms. Common causes of hypothyroidism can be an autoimmune disease, such as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, surgical removal of the thyroid, and radiation treatment.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism, also called overactive thyroid, occurs when your body produces an excess of thyroid hormones. People who have hyperthyroidism experience nervousness, anxiety, heart palpitations, increased sweating, weight loss, increased bowel movements or may have trouble sleeping. One of the tell-tale signs your thyroid may not be functioning properly is a goiter, an enlarged thyroid that may cause your neck to look swollen.

Most of the common causes of hyperthyroidism is Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disorder in which your immune system attacks your thyroid and causes it to make too much hormone. Women are usually diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. Other risk factors are being older than 60 or having recently had a baby.

Thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer

Another cause of a thyroid condition are thyroid nodules, which can be quite common among older adults. They are essentially growths on your thyroid. In most instances they are benign and not cancer, but they often become overactive and make too much thyroid hormone.

While less common, thyroid cancer can also be a possibility if you have severe thyroid symptoms. Women are far more likely than men to get thyroid cancer, but older men are still likely candidates. Thyroid cancer is highly treatable and has a very good cure rate. With both thyroid nodules and thyroid cancer, a thyroid specialist or thyroid doctor is best positioned to assess your condition and plan a course of action.

Possible treatments

In most cases, surgery, radioiodine therapy (you swallow a pill or liquid containing a higher dose of radioactive iodine) or radiation therapy is how these conditions are managed or treated. Thyroid nodule removal (removing a nodule that may be cancerous) or thyroid gland removal (a surgical procedure that involves removing part or all the thyroid) are also procedures that successfully treat many of these conditions. While the risk of complications is extremely low, patients may need to take thyroid hormone replacement medication for the rest of their lives. For most cases of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism treatments include hormone replacement therapy.

Thyroid disease often runs in families, so it’s important to check your family history and let your doctor know.

VM-Med private thyroid clinic

As soon as you notice a lump (nodule) on your thyroid, it is important to have it assessed by a doctor at VM-Med’s private thyroid clinic. If you have a thyroid nodule or lump, our VM-Med surgeons can quickly assess whether further treatment is required.Once a diagnosis has been made, a treatment plan will be proposed either by your referring doctor, or by your VM-Med doctor, based on the examination and your test results.

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