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2023-03-27 23:32:01

What Does the Thyroid Do?

human neck anatomy

In your neck, you have a butterfly-shaped gland called your thyroid. You might not ever see it or feel it, but it plays a huge role in your overall health and wellness. What does the thyroid do, exactly? In this article, learn more about the vital job it has, what it influences, warning signs that it might be acting up, and how you can keep it healthy.

Wait, What Does the Thyroid Do?

The thyroid sits at the front of your neck and makes hormones that influence the way your body uses energy. More specifically, it produces thyroxine or tetraiodothyronine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), the latter being the active form of the hormone.

We tend to think that our hormones have a contained impact, but in actuality, the hormones that the thyroid makes affect almost every organ in the body and many of the functions happening inside of you. For example, your thyroid hormones play a role in your heart function, body weight, digestion, mood, breathing, blood pressure, body temperature, metabolism, and how your body reacts to other hormones.

In other words, if your thyroid gland isn’t functioning properly, it can have a ripple effect on many other health issues.

What is Thyroid Disease?

There are several types of thyroid disorders. Hyperthyroidism (or an overactive thyroid) is when the thyroid gland produces too much thyroid hormone. For example, you may have heard of Graves’ disease, which is an immune system disorder that causes hyperthyroidism. If left untreated, symptoms include sweating, anxiety and nervousness, weight loss, mood swings, muscle weakness, trouble sleeping, low sex drive, irregular periods, diarrhea, excessive thirst, and an irregular heartbeat.

Hypothyroidism is when your body doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. Individuals with an underactive thyroid might experience fatigue, constipation, muscle aches and weakness, dry skin, brittle hair and nails, irregular periods, depression, and weight gain.

Man depressed and tired due to thyroid problems

Some individuals experience thyroid tumors. This is when small, noncancerous growths appear on the thyroid gland. The tumor itself can release thyroid hormone, leading to hyperthyroidism. Depending on the size, the tumor might even be visible to the human eye. On the other hand, there’s Hashimoto’s, an autoimmune disorder that causes the thyroid gland itself to become inflamed (also known as a goiter), usually causing too much thyroid hormone followed by too little. Note that both untreated hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism can cause goiters.

Lastly, there’s thyroid cancer, which has four main types: papillary, follicular, anaplastic, and medullary thyroid cancer. This is usually confirmed through biopsies.

It might all sound very scary, but here’s the reassuring news about thyroid disorders: they’re treatable! Hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, and Hashimoto’s can be treated with medication, while tumors and cancer might require surgery. There are also certain lifestyle habits you can adopt to improve your thyroid health. (More on that a little later.)

What Causes Thyroid Disorders?

There are numerous potential causes of thyroid problems. They can be hereditary or triggered by pregnancy. Some medicines and medical treatments — like radiation — can cause them. When a virus or bacteria causes inflammation, that can cause your thyroid to act up. The thyroid can come under attack due to an autoimmune disease. Additionally, although relatively rare in the United States, an iodine deficiency can play a part, since the thyroid needs iodine to make the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine. (These hormones help to create proteins and encourage enzyme activity, in addition to stabilizing your metabolism.)

How are Thyroid Problems Diagnosed?

While your healthcare provider can feel around your neck for lumps and nodules, a blood test will be necessary to check the levels of your various hormones. eNational’s thyroid health panel will check your thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), free T4, and T3, and you can order your test online without a doctor’s visit. If you are having concerning symptoms or even have a family history, why not get checked today?

How Can You Keep Your Thyroid Healthy?

If you want to improve your thyroid health, there are certain things you can do right at home to give it more support.

Bowl of broccoli

You can also supplement with trace elements like iodine, zinc, and selenium, but it’s important that you speak with your healthcare provider and get a blood test first! Also, keep in mind that while your lifestyle choices absolutely have an impact, your doctor might still recommend medication as part of your treatment plan.

Thyroid Testing with eNational

If you’re ready to get ahead of your thyroid health, eNational can help. You can order our thyroid health panel online in just a few clicks, without a doctor’s visit. We have more than 2,000 locations across the country, so we’re never more than a short drive away.

Your thyroid health is imperative to your overall wellness at all stages of life. Take action and order your thyroid health panel today.