2018 is right around the corner, which means so is the kick-off of Thyroid Awareness Month – an annual campaign that is recognized each year during the entire month of January.
What is the Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland that is located just at the base of the neck and right below the Adam’s apple.
What Does the Thyroid Do?
While you might not think of the thyroid as an important part of the body given just how small it is, it actually contributes to the function of some of our most important organs, including the brain, heart, kidneys, liver and skin. One way to think of the thyroid is to liken it to a car engine and fuel. Just like an engine and fuel are the main components of a vehicle and necessary to get it moving, the thyroid also plays a similar role. Without fuel, the thyroid is unable to function.
So just how does the thyroid get the fuel that it needs? The answer is through iodine. Iodine comes from your diet and is found in things like salt, bread, milk, and seafood. The iodine is extracted from these foods and produces two types of thyroid hormones known as thyroxine – also known as T4, and triiodothyronine – also known as T3.
Just as you control the speed of your car by using an accelerator, a gland known as the pituitary gland – also known as the “master gland” – controls the speed of your thyroid by sending a message to the thyroid gland and telling it how much thyroid hormone it should create. The proper term for this is thyroid-stimulating hormone or TSH. Depending on how much thyroid hormone is being produced, your TSH levels can rise or fall.
Hypothyroidism vs. Hyperthyroidism
There are many things that can contribute to too much or not enough thyroid hormone being produced. When there is not enough hormone, this is known as hypothyroidism or under-active thyroid. Alternatively, when there is too much hormone being produced this is known as hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid – neither of which are good.
If you’re feeling cold, overly fatigued, depressed, find you are gaining weight but eating less, these are symptoms that may be indicative of hypothyroidism or under-active thyroid, and you are not producing enough thyroid hormone.
If you feel overheated, anxious, irritable, have trouble sleeping and are losing weight, these are symptoms that may be indicative of hyperthyroidism or over-active thyroid, and you are producing too much thyroid hormone.
Diagnosing Thyroid Disease
Diagnosing thyroid disease is fairly simple. Dr. Ali Ghahary, a family physician in Vancouver, will send patients for a quick blood test to check TSH levels. Depending on the results, Dr. Ghahary may then prescribe patients with medication to help increase or decrease their thyroid hormone levels so that they are where they need to be. Blood tests should be done every so often to check your thyroid levels, as you may need to increase or decrease your medication over time.