What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small hormonal gland that sits in the front of the neck. It is made of 2 halves, called lobes that lie near the windpipe and are joined by a narrow band of tissue.
The thyroid takes in iodine, which is found in many foods, and converts it into the thyroid hormones thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones are used widely in the body for regulation of metabolism and functions such as:
- Heart rate
- Central and peripheral nervous systems
- Body weight
- Muscle strength
- Menstrual cycles
- Body temperatures
- Cholesterol levels
What controls the Thyroid?
The thyroid gland is under the control of the pituitary gland, a tiny peanut-sized gland at the base of the brain. When your levels of T3 & T4 are too low, the pituitary releases TSH, which instructs the thyroid gland to make and release more T3 & T4 to raise the levels.
Both the pituitary and thyroid glands are under the control of another gland, known as the hypothalamus.
What happens if there is something wrong with my thyroid gland?
There are two main problems that can occur with your thyroid hormones. The first is excess of the thyroid hormones, causing hyperthyroidism. This can cause symptoms such as:
- Irritability or moodiness
- Nervousness, hyperactivity
- Sweating or sensitivity to high temperatures
- Hand trembling (shaking)
- Hair loss
- Missed or light menstrual periods
The second is lack of the thyroid hormones, which causes hypothyroidism. This can result in:
- Trouble sleeping
- Tiredness and fatigue
- Difficulty concentrating
- Dry skin and hair
- Sensitivity to cold temperatures
- Frequent, heavy periods
- Joint and muscle pain
How do I find out if my thyroid gland is functioning properly?
If you or your GP are concerned that there is a problem with your thyroid gland and thyroid hormones, there are some simple blood tests that can be conducted to look at the levels of T3, T4 and TSH in your blood.
Further tests that may be conducted include scans of the thyroid gland to show their size or the uptake of iodine.
How can thyroid problems be treated?
If your thyroid hormones are low, replacement hormones can be easily taken in tablet form. If your thyroid hormones are high, there are a number of different treatment options available to reduce the levels, including medication, surgery and radioiodine ablation.
- Brady, B 2017, ‘Thyroid Gland, How it Functions, Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism and Hypothyroidism’, EndocrineWeb
- NHS Choices 2015, ‘Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) – Treatment’, NHS Choices
- NHS Choices 2016, ‘Treatments for an overactive thyroid’, NHS Choices
- Norman, J 2017, ‘Thyroid Gland Function Tests’, EndocrineWeb
- Sargis, RM 2017, ‘How your Thyroid Works’, EndocrineWeb
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