The human body operates like a complex factory, and like any factory, there are thousands of moving parts, and even more supporting roles keeping those parts moving.
The thyroid plays an important role in all this activity; it has something of a managerial position. Without the thyroid bossing everybody around, the quality and effectiveness of all that work suffers greatly. And like any organization, there is a hierarchy at play here – the thyroid gets its marching orders from the pituitary gland, which in turn answers to the part of the brain called the hypothalamus. But instead of memos to conduct all this communication, the body uses hormones.
So where is my thyroid located?
Your thyroid should have set up camp right in front of the trachea (commonly called the windpipe). Shaped a bit like a butterfly’s wings, the thyroid has two lobes that curl around the trachea connected by a narrow isthmus that links the 2 larger parts together.
It usually weighs less than an ounce, but it sure can pack a punch when it comes to your health.
It’s not until things start going wrong with their thyroid that most people become aware of just how much it was doing for them in the first place.
The most common thyroid problems involve abnormal production of thyroid hormones. Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid overproduces hormones. Alternately, insufficient hormone production leads to hypothyroidism.
Although the effects can be unpleasant or uncomfortable, most thyroid problems can be managed well if properly diagnosed and treated.
When someone has hyperthyroidism — which means their thyroid is putting in some serious overtime and producing hormones a little too enthusiastically – it can wreak havoc in the body. Hyperthyroidism can cause sudden weight loss and increased appetite, rapid heartbeat, irregular heartbeat or a pounding heart like palpitations. If your thyroid’s acting wacky, you might be sweatier than normal, feel nervous, have tremors in your hands, experience constant fatigue and muscle weakness with heat sensitivity, have difficulty sleeping – and there are so many more symptoms to list.
Hyperthyroidism can also be a side effect of certain conditions:
- Graves’ disease: The production of too much thyroid hormone
- Toxic adenomas: Nodules develop in the thyroid gland and begin to secrete thyroid hormones, upsetting the body’s chemical balance; some goiters may contain several of these nodules.
- Subacute thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid that causes the gland to “leak” excess hormones, resulting in temporary hyperthyroidism that generally lasts a few weeks but may persist for months
- Pituitary gland malfunctions or cancerous growths in the thyroid gland: Although rare, hyperthyroidism can also develop from these causes.
Regardless of the cause, a continual presentation of many of these symptoms warrants a visit to the doctor for some tests.
The thyroid’s underproduction of hormones results in a condition called hypothyroidism. Since your body’s energy production requires certain amounts of thyroid hormones, a drop in hormone production leads to lower energy levels.
When your thyroid underperforms, trouble brews. This type of thyroid condition can cause someone to feel increased fatigue, forgetfulness, depression and sluggishness, have brittle hair and nails, be more sensitive to cold and feel constipated. Excited yet? The list continues with pale, dry skin; a puffy face; hoarse voice; high cholesterol; inexplicable weight gain; tender, stiff and swollen joints and muscles; muscle weakness and more.
When your thyroid’s not around to rev up your metabolism, a lot of things can go wrong. What’s even sneakier is you usually don’t wake up one morning with every symptom on the list in full-fledged severity. You’ll just have a little more trouble making it through the day without your trusty coffee, or you may look in the mirror and see your face appears a bit puffier and more aged than it used to or you could get an ache in your muscles even after just walking a short distance. After a while, you’ll start to feel miserable all the time without even knowing why.
Causes of hypothyroidism include:
- Hashimoto’s thyroiditis: In this autoimmune disorder, the body attacks thyroid tissue. The tissue eventually dies and stops producing hormones.
- Removal of the thyroid gland: The thyroid may have been surgically removed or chemically destroyed.
- Exposure to excessive amounts of iodide: Cold and sinus medicines, the heart medicine amiodarone, or certain contrast dyes given before some X-rays may expose you to too much iodine.You may be at greater risk for developing hypothyroidism if you have had thyroid problems in the past.
- Lithium: This drug has also been implicated as a cause of hypothyroidism.
What are the Chances I Have Thyroid Problems?
As reported on health.com, at least 30 million Americans have a thyroid disorder and half—15 million—are silent sufferers who are undiagnosed, according to The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. Women are as much as 10 times as likely as men to have a thyroid problem, says integrative medicine specialist Robin Miller, MD, co-author of The Smart Woman’s Guide to MidLife & Beyond.
What are Some of the Signs of Thyroid Problems:
1. Extreme fatigue:
Different than your average didn’t-get-enough-sleep kind of tired, extreme fatigue occurs when you have had plenty of sleep and feel as though you haven’t slept much at all, and continues regardless of rest. Too little thyroid hormone coursing through your bloodstream and cells means your muscles aren’t getting that get-going signal.
It’s thought that the production of too little thyroid hormone can have an impact on levels of “feel good” serotonin in the brain.
3. Anxious and jittery:
An overabundance of thyroid hormone can send you into a downward spiral of anxiety and nervousness.
4. Foggy brain:
Cognitive functioning suffers when your thyroid is out of whack. Hyperthyroidism can cause difficulty concentrating; and hypothyroidism may cause forgetfulness and general brain fog.
5. Decreased libido:
Too little thyroid hormone can contribute to a lower libido, but the cumulative impact of other hypothyroidism symptoms—weight gain, low energy, and body aches and pains—could also play a part.
6. Irritable Bowels
People with hypothyroidism sometimes complain of constipation. The disruption in hormone production causes a slowdown of digestive processes.
On the reverse side of the spectrum, an overactive thyroid gland can cause diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements.
7. Unexplained muscle pain:
If you have mysterious or sudden pain, tingling or numbness in your arms, legs, feet, or hands, it could be a sign of hypothyroidism. Over time, producing too little thyroid hormone can damage the nerves that send signals from your brain throughout your body. The result is those “unexplained” tingles and twinges.
8. Hair thinning or falling out:
Too little thyroid hormone disrupts your hair growth cycle and puts too many follicles into “resting” mode, resulting in hair loss—sometimes all over your body, including the outside of your eyebrows.
Most thyroid conditions are fairly easy to treat, and can make a big difference in your life. If you have tried all the traditional methods, and still find youa re struggling with thyroid imbalance, it’s time to consider Our Approach.