Little Gland, Big Problems

Little Gland, Big ProblemsMany symptoms of thyroid disease start off subtly but can be signs of larger problems to come if dysfunction go untreated.

The thyroid is a small gland located at the base of your neck, above the collarbone. It produces hormones that play an important role in how your body functions.

How fast you burn calories, how fast your heart beats and how quickly certain organs work are all affected by hormones that originate in the thyroid.

“When your thyroid works correctly, your body gets just the right amount of the hormones it needs,” said Mary Self, MD, endocrinologist with KentuckyOne Health Endocrinology and Diabetes Associates. “Problems start to occur when your body begins to make too much or too little of one or more important hormones.”

Too Much of a Good Thing

Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid produces too many hormones. Symptoms include:

  • Unexplained weight loss
  • Increased appetite
  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat
  • Anxiety and irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Shaking hands and fingers

Medication, surgery and other therapies can be used to reduce your symptoms and limit the amount of certain hormones being produced.

Running on Empty

When the thyroid doesn’t make enough of certain hormones, it is called hypothyroidism. Problems with this thyroid disorder include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain and puffy face
  • Intolerance of cold
  • Dry skin and thinning hair
  • Depression and slowed heart rate
  • Fertility problems
  • Joint and muscle pain

Hypothyroidism is easily controlled with medication, including synthetic hormones. Doctors use a simple blood test and medical history to screen for hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism and guide treatment.

Common Causes of Thyroid Disease

Two disorders are the most common causes of thyroid disease:

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis

“Thyroiditis” means a swollen thyroid. There are many reasons your thyroid may become inflamed.

In Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, your immune system’s antibodies attack the thyroid, leading to chronic inflammation. Over time, this reduces your thyroid’s ability to produce hormones.

Graves’ disease

In a healthy person, a pea-sized gland in the brain produces thyroidstimulating hormone (TSH) that tells your thyroid how much of certain hormones to make. Graves’ disease is caused when the body’s antibodies begin mimicking TSH, causing the body to produce more thyroid hormone than it needs.

Speak with a thyroid specialist at KentuckyOne Health to learn more. Call  844.297.8986 (Louisville) or 844.297.8987 (Lexington).

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 edition of One Health magazine. Receive more health and wellness news and information by signing up for your free subscription to One Health.