The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that sits low on the front of the neck. Your thyroid lies below your Adam’s apple, along the front of the windpipe. The thyroid has two side lobes connected by a bridge (isthmus) in the middle. When the thyroid is its normal size, you can’t feel it.
Brownish-red in colour, the thyroid is rich in blood vessels.The nerves important for voice quality also pass through the thyroid.
The thyroid secretes several hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones. The primary hormone is thyroxine, also called T4. Thyroid hormones act throughout the body, influencing metabolism, growth and development, and body temperature. During infancy and childhood, adequate thyroid hormone is crucial for brain development.
The most common thyroid problems involve the abnormal production of thyroid hormones. Too much thyroid hormone results in a condition known as hyperthyroidism. 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.There are several other different types of thyroid disease, including thyroiditis and Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
What does the thyroid do?
The Thyroid gland has a vital function which is, releasing and controlling thyroid hormones that control metabolism. Metabolism is a process where the food you ingest is transformed into energy. This energy is used to regulate and coordinate all the functions of your body i.e., it acts as a generator. It takes in raw energy and uses it to power your daily bodily functions.
The thyroid controls your metabolism with a few specific hormones — T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine). The thyroid creates these two hormones, and they regulate the body’s cells in managing the amount of energy to be used. When your thyroid levels are normal, it will maintain the right amount of hormones to keep your metabolism working at the correct rate. As the hormones are used, the thyroid gland creates replacements.
This is all supervised by the pituitary gland. Located in the centre of the skull, below your brain, the pituitary gland monitors and controls the amount of thyroid hormones in your bloodstream. When the pituitary gland senses a lack of thyroid hormones or a high level of hormones in your body, it will adjust the amounts with its own hormone. This hormone is called thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH).
All types of Hyperthyroidism are due to an overproduction of thyroid hormones, but the condition can occur in several ways:
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 goitres 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.
Hypothyroidism, by contrast, stems from an underproduction of thyroid hormones. Since your body's energy production requires certain amounts of thyroid hormones, a drop in hormone production leads to lower energy levels. 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.
Untreated for long periods of time, hypothyroidism can bring on a myxedema coma, a rare but potentially fatal condition that requires immediate hormone treatment.
Who is affected by thyroid disease?
Thyroid disease can affect anyone — men, women, infants, teenagers and the elderly.
It can be present at birth (commonly hypothyroidism), and it can develop as you age.
Thyroid disease is very common, with an estimated 42 millionpeople in India having some type of thyroid disorder.
Here’s a quick fact:A woman is about five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition than a man.
You may be at a higher risk of developing thyroid disease if you:
Have a family history of thyroid disease. There is a proven study that says thyroid is hereditary and can spread from generation to generation
Have a medical condition like pernicious anaemia, type 1 diabetes, primary adrenal insufficiency, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s syndrome, and Turner syndrome.
Take a medication that’s high in iodine.
Have had treatment for a past thyroid condition or cancer.
How is thyroid disease treated?
Your healthcare provider’s goal is to return your thyroid hormone levels to normal. This can be done in a variety of ways, and each specific treatment will depend on the cause of your thyroid condition.If you have high levels of thyroid hormones (hyperthyroidism), treatment options can include:
Anti-thyroid drugs(methimazole and propylthioracil): These are medications that stop your thyroid from making hormones. (*It is suggested not to self-prescribe medications and to only treat after consulting with a qualified physician)
Radioactive iodine: This treatment damages the cells of your thyroid, preventing it from making high levels of thyroid hormones.
Beta-blockers: These medications don’t change the amount of hormones in your body, but they help control your symptoms.
Surgery: A more permanent form of treatment, your healthcare provider may surgically remove your thyroid (commonly called thyroidectomy). This will stop it from creating hormones. However, you will need to take thyroid replacement hormones for the rest of your life.
If you have low levels of thyroid hormones (hypothyroidism), the main treatment option is Thyroid replacement medication. This is a way to add thyroid hormones back into your body. One drug that’s commonly used is called levothyroxine. By taking medication, you can control thyroid disease and live a normal life. But one should only take such drugs only on the advice and direction of their physician.
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