The thyroid gland is a small (about one ounce) butterfly shaped gland located in the lower, front part of the neck, near the trachea. The thyroid gland's primary function is to produce thyroid hormones, known as triiodothyronine and thyroxine, or T3 and T4, respectively. In addition to regulating our energy levels and body temperature, the thyroid gland is essential for absorbing iodine. In fact, thyroid cells are the only cells in the body capable to doing this. The thyroid gland needs iodine to regulate metabolism, so an unhealthy thyroid that doesn't process iodine intake efficiently can create major health concerns.
How do you know if you're a candidate for thyroid testing?
The two most common problems associated with the thyroid gland are hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
Hypothyroidism is most common among women over 50, but by no means excluded to that demographic. Some estimates show that as many as 10 million Americans may have some degree of thyroid hormone deficiency. Of this number, it is possible that millions are unaware of the condition entirely. Common symptoms of hypothyroidism can vary significantly from person to person, but are mostly related to:
- Weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Dry, pale skin
- Hair loss
- Cold intolerance
- Muscle cramps
- Decreased libido
If any of these symptoms are severe or you experience a cluster of them, a thyroid blood test can help you detect thyroid problems and put you on the path to get them resolved. Hypothyroidism is easily treatable for many patients by taking a pill once a day. Treatments differ depending on the severity of the case.
The symptoms of hyperthyroidism can be so gradual that many patients don't realize what's happening until they've become severe. Like hypothyroidism, the symptoms of hyperthyroidism can manifest themselves in a variety of ways. Patients predominantly exhibit increased appetite, weight loss and depression. Other symptoms include:
- Increased heart rate
- Hair loss
- Trembling hands
- Increased bowel movements
- Heat intolerance
Treatments of hyperthyroidism in large part depend on age. Doctors commonly issue pills called beta-blockers that can temporarily alleviate symptoms while a final course of action is determined. After beta-blockers are issued (if they're issued), the two most common treatments are:
- Radioactive iodine treatment - This treatment can cure patients with one dose. It kills part of the thyroid gland without harming other parts of the body.
- Antithyroid medicine - This can be taken in pill form for patients that exhibit milder symptoms. The pills don't destroy the thyroid gland and need to be taken at the same time every day. If this treatment doesn't work, radioactive iodine treatment is usually the next course of action.
Getting a thyroid test can help catch the disease before symptoms worsen, which increases the chances for complications. If you have a history of thyroid problems in your family or feel you may be demonstrating symptoms indicating thyroid problems, getting a thyroid test is quicker and easier than ever.