Do you realize how commonly you hear about someone suffering from thyroid? Despite being so common, you might be quite confused that what exactly is the thyroid? It is essentially a gland present in the human body which performs various vital functions in the body. You might be surprised to know that in India alone, around 42 million people suffer from thyroid-related diseases. And in the United States, the estimates say that this number is around 20 million. In fact, a lot of people aren’t even aware if they are suffering from any thyroid disorder.
But today, you are in luck because we will help you in learning everything about thyroid. You can learn about this gland, its functions, thyroid-related diseases, lifestyle improvements to make, and much more!
What is the Thyroid Gland?
The thyroid is a gland situated in the front of your neck. It is a small butterfly-shaped gland that helps in performing various vital functions in the body. This gland is part of the endocrine system, and similar to other glands, it helps in creating different hormones for the body. These hormones act like messengers in your body that carry signals to the different parts of the body to regulate various bodily functions. Since these functions are highly essential for the body, there are over 50 hormones in the human body. As for the thyroid gland, it produces three hormones:
- Tetraiodothyronine hormone which is also known as the thyroxine or the T4 hormone
- Triiodothyronine hormone which is also known as the T3 hormone
- Calcitonin hormone
What are its Functions?
In an overview, the thyroid gland has an effect on different body functions like breathing, heart rate, metabolism, mood, weight, and others. The three hormones it produces execute different tasks that help the gland maintain the body in a healthy state. The T4 and T3 hormones improve your metabolism and make it faster by increasing the basal metabolic rate (BMR) of your body. This generally happens thanks to the help of iodine which increases the efficiency of all your body cells.
In infants and children, the thyroid helps develop and grow the brain and other important tissues dependent on this gland. Even during pregnancy, it also helps in the development of the baby’s brain and the nervous system.
Talking about the Calcitonin hormone, it lowers the calcium levels in your blood without affecting your bones. Calcitonin does the same by inhibiting the function of osteoclasts which are cells that break down your bones. In other words, Calcitonin prevents the breakdown of your bones and stops calcium from being released in your bloodstream which gets produced during the breakdown of your bones. Calcitonin also lowers the amount of calcium that gets reabsorbed by your kidneys and released into the bloodstream which effectively lowers the calcium levels in your blood.
The thyroid gland also communicates closely with the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland releases the Thyroid Stimulating Hormone (TSH) to control the number of thyroid hormones secreted. This maintains a healthy balance of hormones as it prevents overproduction or underproduction of hormones.
Iodine and Thyroid
Iodine is a trace element which means that it is required by the body only in minute amounts. It plays a highly crucial part in the functions that the thyroid gland performs. As the two main hormones, T3 and T4 are made in this gland using Iodine. Iodine in the body is absorbed by this gland and the synthesis of the hormones begins which are then released into the bloodstream. Although, the human body is not capable of producing this mineral on its own. Therefore, it is important to have a proper intake of iodine through the food you eat. If your body lacks iodine, your body won’t make enough hormones.
An average adult is recommended to take 150 mcg of iodine daily and the need increases for women who are pregnant or nursing. There are a variety of iodine sources present in food items like eggs, dairy, seaweed, cod, iodized salt, etc.
Thyroid related Diseases
An imbalance in thyroid hormones can affect a number of processes in your body. This can lead to various diseases like the ones we will be looking at below:
The Goiter is a condition where the thyroid gland becomes enlarged or a cell of this gland grows more than its normal size which creates lumps. You can face Goiter due to both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism or even when the gland is working just fine.
Symptoms of Goiter
- Swelling of the neck area
- Pain in the neck area
- Difficulty in swallowing
- Hoarseness in your voice
Although, if you are facing issues with your thyroid, you may face more than just the symptoms of Goiter. You can even have the symptoms of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism at the same time.
Causes of Goiter
- Iodine Deficiency: When your body is deficient in iodine, the thyroid gland produces fewer hormones. Due to this, the pituitary gland sends a signal of producing more hormones. This leads to the enlargement of the thyroid gland in order to complete the request made by the pituitary gland.
- Hashimoto’s Disease: It is an autoimmune disorder that attacks its own cells. This results in reduced production of the thyroid hormone, which leads the pituitary gland to send a signal to produce more hormones, increasing the gland’s size, and causing goiter.
- Grave’s Disease: This is another autoimmune condition where the immune system produces a protein called Thyroid Stimulating Immunoglobulin (TSI). This protein then makes the gland produce more hormones along with the TSH and increase in size leading to goiter.
- Thyroiditis: Inflammation caused in the thyroid gland can lead to goiter as in the initial stages it leads to hypothyroidism and later to hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroid Nodules: The thyroid gland can sometimes develop some nodules which can lead to enlargement in this gland.
Hypothyroidism is a condition that occurs when your thyroid gland is not producing enough of the hormones required for body functions. The symptoms of hypothyroidism are more noticeable in the later stages of this disease. Therefore, it is crucial to look for symptoms so that you can get proper medical diagnosis and treatment before it leads to serious health issues like obesity, heart diseases, mental health issues, etc.
Symptoms of Hypothyroidism
- Weight gain
- Slow metabolism
- Brain fog
- Muscle weakness
- Puffiness in the face
- Elevated cholesterol levels
- Heavier or irregular periods
- Joint pain
Causes of Hypothyroidism
- Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis: Also known as Hashimoto’s disease, it is a type of thyroiditis and is an autoimmune disorder. This disease destroys the cells that help in producing the thyroid hormones. This results in less production of crucial hormones.
- Iodine Deficient Diet: As the hormones are created with the help of iodine, consuming less of it won’t make enough thyroid hormones necessary.
- Damage in the Pituitary Gland: If the pituitary gland cannot communicate with the thyroid gland properly, then this gland won’t know how many hormones are to be released into the bloodstream. This can lead to less production of hormones.
- Surgery: There are many cases of removal of the whole thyroid gland or a part of it due to diseases like thyroid cancer, Grave’s disease, etc. In such a case, if proper medications are not provided, there can be a hindrance in the production of hormones definitely which can lead to hypothyroidism. And in case of removal of the whole gland, you will definitely face hypothyroidism.
- Radiation Treatment: It includes destroying the thyroid cells in the body which will affect its functioning.
- Congenital Hypothyroidism: This is a condition where a baby is born with hypothyroidism.
- Medications: Some medications can also hinder the processes of the thyroid gland.
Hyperthyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too many hormones and releases them into the bloodstream. This essentially means that it speeds up the metabolic activities going on in the body. The symptoms that might be noticeable with hyperthyroidism are as follows:
Symptoms of Hyperthyroidism
- Rapid weight loss
- Increased heart rate
- Anxiety or irritability
- Disturbed sleep
- Fast metabolism
- Muscle weakness
- Brittle hair
- Increased sweating
- Increased frequency of bowel movements
- Lighter and less frequent periods
Causes of Hyperthyroidism
- Grave’s Disease: It is an autoimmune disorder that makes the gland release hormones in more quantity than required which increases the rate at which the cells are working. This leads to the development of hyperthyroidism.
- Thyroiditis: It includes a group of conditions that causes inflammation and swelling in the thyroid gland. Usually, in the beginning, it produces too many hormones leading to hyperthyroidism and then follows a phase where it produces too few hormones leading to hypothyroidism.
- Excess of Iodine Consumption: Iodine is required only in minimal quantities by our body and is mainly useful for the thyroid gland. Therefore, too much iodine can lead to the formation of excess hormones which causes hyperthyroidism.
- Overactive Thyroid Nodules: Nodules develop when the thyroid tissue overgrows. And some of them become overactive meaning they start producing hormones on their own which leads to excess hormones in the gland.
This type of cancer occurs as a result of changes in thyroid cells which affect their regular functioning. There is more than one type of this cancer and the most common ones are Papillary and Follicular thyroid cancers. Most of the time they are curable, hence timely diagnosis is a crucial step to treating them.
Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer
- Lumps on the neck
- Increased hoarseness in voice
- Pain in the throat and neck
- Swelling in the neck area
Causes of Thyroid Cancer
- Iodine Deficiency: Often this type of cancer develops when the gland isn’t getting enough iodine to process the hormones which might lead to changes in its tissues.
- Genetics: Genetic mutation can lead to a type of thyroid cancer.
- Exposure to Radiation Treatment: Exposure to radiation for medical treatment, especially in childhood, can also lead to Papillary cancer.
Risk Factors of Thyroid Diseases
There are some common risk factors that make a certain population more susceptible to the issues discussed above.
- Age: As your age increases, people become more vulnerable to thyroid disorders.
- Gender: Generally, women are at a higher risk of getting a thyroid disorder.
- Smoking: Smoking can seriously affect this gland, and hence is a contributing factor to thyroid diseases.
- Autoimmune Diseases: As you have seen above, certain autoimmune conditions can also lead to such diseases.
- Past History of Thyroid Problems: These can also make a person more vulnerable to thyroid issues.
Diagnosis of Thyroid Diseases
Usually diagnosing the disease by looking at the symptoms is hard due to the fact that there may be many overlapping symptoms that a person can face. Hence, in order to come to an accurate conclusion about a disease caused by this glad, there are a few types of tests as mentioned below:
- Blood tests: These are used to determine if the hormones are working properly. The available tests are for T3RU as well as for TSH, T3, and T4 hormones. By testing the levels of these hormones, your doctor can determine the functioning of your thyroid gland and then move on to further treatment.
- Imaging Tests: It includes ultrasound tests, radioactive iodine scans, or a CT scan. With these tests, you can also do a thorough examination of how the gland looks and its size.
- Physical Exam: In a physical exam, your doctor will be physically examining the neck area for any nodules or an enlarged gland that can be visible as swelling.
Diagnosing these issues is an essential step for knowing the health of this gland. After the diagnosis, make sure to take professional advice so that you can get suitable treatment.
Lifestyle Changes to Make
As you are aware by now, thyroid diseases in most cases are not preventable and can happen due to autoimmune diseases or some other hormonal issues. Hence, proper medications are necessary to treat or manage it. Making healthy lifestyle changes can help your body in restoring its normal functioning and can make your medicines more effective. These changes can also help in relieving the symptoms you might be feeling:
- Diet: A healthy diet that includes whole grains, fruits, lean proteins, healthy fats, and a variety of vegetables can help in avoiding cases of thyroid problems that occur due to a poor diet.
- Exercise: Even a little physical movement every day is always a good idea as it keeps both your mind and body in a healthy condition. It can help in reducing some symptoms like weight gain, disturbed sleep, etc.
- Proper Iodine Intake: As described earlier, having iodine deficiency or excess can lead to serious thyroid issues. Make sure to take care of the iodine you are consuming.
- Reduce Stress: Stress can affect your metabolism by slowing it down. This can affect your thyroid gland as it is responsible for metabolic functions and can also worsen the symptoms and the issues related to it.
- Sleep: Thyroid issues can also impact your sleep cycle. Therefore it is important to try finding ways that can help you in sleeping better for your overall health.
By making these changes in your lifestyle you can see improvements in the symptoms you might be facing. Although you can’t prevent a thyroid disease from affecting you in most cases, you can definitely make it less severe by having a healthy lifestyle.
We hope you know much more about the thyroid gland and the various issues related to it in this article. If you did, make sure to leave your thoughts and comments down below! We will be back with more informative content.