What and where is the thyroid?
The thyroid gland itself is a small organ located in the front of the neck. It is shaped sort of like a butterfly, and wrapped around the front part of your trachea. It has two lobes – a right and a left – which each expand around the sides of your neck like butterfly wings. The small connecting portion in between is called the isthmus. The function of the thyroid is complex, but in the most simple terms it releases hormones that regulate the body’s overall level of metabolism.
How can the thyroid affect weight?
Your thyroid secretes hormones that regulate your metabolic rate. When the thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone, your body uses energy too quickly. This is called hyperthyroidism. Symptoms can include things that you might expect if your body is “revved up,” such as tremors, palpitations, weight loss, heat intolerance, etc.
Conversely, when the thyroid produces too little thyroid hormone – a condition called hypothyroidism – then you see opposite effects. People with hypothyroidism will have a lower metabolic rate, and thus suffer from fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, and a number of other problems. In this way, hypothyroidism can be associated with obesity.
Common symptoms of thyroid disease
- · Nervousness, anxiety, irritability
· Weight loss
· Muscle weaknesses
· Mood swings
· Sensitivity to heat
· Vision impairment or irritation of eyes
· Enlarged thyroid gland/goiter
· Menstrual cycle irregularity
- · Fatigue
- · Constipation
- · Weight gain
- · Depression
- · Muscle cramps and weakness
- · Cold Insensitivity
The most common diseases linked to an imbalanced thyroid are:
- · Hashimoto’s disease (associated with hypothyroidism).
- · Graves’ disease (associated with hyperthyroidism)
- · Goiter
- · Thyroid nodules
There are multiple causes of both hyper- and hypothyroidism, and thus there are multiple treatment options available. The most common treatment for hypothyroidism is hormone replacement with a daily dose of levothyroxine, which is a manufactured thyroid hormone that comes in a pill form. Hormone levels need to be monitored closely by your physician, and the dose may need to be adjusted from time to time. Treatment of hyperthyroidism is more complex, and may vary from medications to surgical removal of the thyroid gland.
Thyroid nodules are very common, especially in women and the elderly. However, occasionally thyroid nodules can either secrete too much hormone and cause hyperthyroidism, or they can turn into thyroid cancer. Thus, any time a thyroid nodule is identified, it should be evaluated. This usually involves checking thyroid levels and getting an ultrasound of the thyroid gland. Based on the size, appearance, and function of the nodule(s), sometimes you may need additional imaging tests or even a needle biopsy. When it is felt that the nodules need to be removed, then it is best performed by a surgeon experienced in endocrine surgery.
Questions to consider for your Physician
If you are concerned about your thyroid, its function can easily be determined with some simple laboratory tests through your primary care physician. If the thyroid is dysfunctional, then you should seek the guidance of an endocrinologist – a physician that specializes in managing hormonal disorders. If it is felt that you might require surgery for a thyroid disorder, then you should seek out a surgeon who specializes in endocrine surgery, such as Dr. St. Julien.