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Understanding Your Thyroid

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just above your collarbone. It is one of your endocrine glands, which make hormones that help control the rate of many activities in your body. The bodily functions affected by how well the thyroid works include how fast your heart beats and how well you burn calories (metabolism).

Thyroid problems include:

  • Goiter – enlargement of the thyroid gland
  • Hyperthyroidism – when your thyroid gland makes more thyroid hormones than your body needs
  • Hypothyroidism – when your thyroid gland does not make enough thyroid hormones
  • Thyroid cancer
  • Thyroid nodules – lumps in the thyroid gland
  • Thyroiditis – swelling of the thyroid

Sometimes the thyroid gland doesn’t work properly, either releasing too little thyroid hormone  (hypothyroidism) or too much (hyperthyroidism).

Hypothyroidism is more commonly found in women, people with other thyroid problems, and those over 60 years old. Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder, is the most common cause. Other causes include thyroid nodules, thyroiditis, congenital hypothyroidism, surgical removal of part or all of the thyroid, radiation treatment of the thyroid, and some medicines.

The symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary from person to person and may include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weight gain
  • A puffy face
  • Cold intolerance
  • Joint and muscle pain
  • Constipation
  • Dry skin
  • Dry, thinning hair
  • Decreased sweating
  • Heavy or irregular menstrual periods and fertility problems
  • Depression
  • Slowed heart rate

To diagnose hypothyroidism, your doctor will look at your symptoms and blood tests. A synthetic thyroid hormone prescription is the typical treatment for hypothyroidism, followed by regular check-ups and blood tests to monitor thyroid hormone levels.  

Hypothyroidism also is more commonly found in women, people with other thyroid problems, and those over 60 years old. Grave’s disease, an autoimmune disorder, is the likely cause. Other causes include thyroid nodules, thyroiditis, consuming too much iodine, and taking too much synthetic thyroid hormone.

The symptoms can vary from person to person and may include:

  • Nervousness or irritability
  • Mood swings
  • Fatigue or muscle weakness
  • Heat intolerance
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Hand tremors
  • Rapid and irregular heartbeat
  • Frequent bowel movements or diarrhea
  • Weight loss
  • Goiter (enlarged thyroid that may cause the neck to look swollen)

To diagnose hyperthyroidism, your doctor will review your symptoms, blood tests, and sometimes a thyroid scan. Treatment is with medicines, radioiodine therapy and thyroid surgery.