Thyroid Awareness Month

January 3, 2019 by Anne Kyle, RN

The thyroid is a small, butterfly shaped gland that sits at the base of your throat. Don’t be fooled by its diminutive size. The thyroid is actually the general that directs the function of many parts of your body, as well as your major organs.  The thyroid produces thyroid hormone, which it makes all on its own from the iodine consumed in your diet. Directions on when and how much hormone to release comes from the commander in chief: the pituitary gland. Making sure that your thyroid is able to produce the hormone and distribute it to your cells properly is more important than most people think.

Sometimes an illness, medications, damage to your thyroid, or even age can change the function of your thyroid. That’s why your doctor usually includes thyroid testing in your annual blood work. If you have too little hormone and it is not being sent out to your cells, it is called HYPOthyroidism. When this happens, everything slows down. You may feel tired, depressed, cold or even start to gain weight even though you have not changed your diet or exercise routine. It is not unusual for menopausal women to require thyroid medication to boost production and distribution of thyroid hormone. Synthroid (levothyroxine) is a safe medication with very few side effects that women can take daily with little concern.

When your thyroid is not producing enough hormone, it gets signals that it is under- producing and starts to work harder. Sometimes this can result in an enlarged gland that is called a goiter. This is much less common than it used to be because so many foods are iodine-enriched, making sure that a normal diet is adequate to provide needed amounts of iodine to produce thyroid hormone. Even so, it is very important to have your levels checked every year to prevent the stress on the thyroid. If you see or feel a bump near your thyroid, see your doctor for an evaluation.

The other side of the coin is HYPERthyroidism. This is when your thyroid is turbo-charged and produces way more hormone than you need. You may feel anxious, with a racing heart, have trouble sleeping and lose more weight than you’d like. The autoimmune disorder, Grave’s disease, is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. With Graves, your own antibodies see the thyroid as foreign and attack it. This causes the thyroid to overproduce hormone. There are a number of medications that can help to slow things down. There are also treatments and finally, surgical removal of the thyroid. Only your doctor can tell you which is best for you.

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