The thyroid gland may be small, but this tiny wonder plays a big role in regulating many of your body functions. If something goes wrong with your thyroid, it could have major health implications.
Because your thyroid gland influences so many things, it can be tricky to know when an issue with it arises. In fact, researchers estimate about 60% of people with thyroid disease aren’t aware they have a problem with this gland.
The good news is that board-certified physician Steven Chen, MD, and his team at OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare in Encinitas, San Diego, and Temecula, California, specialize in identifying and managing different types of thyroid disorders.
Take a moment to learn more about this important gland and three thyroid gland disorders that might be causing your symptoms.
A closer look at the thyroid gland
This small, butterfly-shaped gland is located near the front of your windpipe, low on your neck. It’s part of your endocrine system, which is made up of glands all over your body. Each gland in the endocrine system has a different job to do.
Your thyroid gland’s main function is to help control and regulate your body’s metabolism. Your metabolism is how you break down foods into the pieces that can be burned for energy. It also helps regulate other things, including your temperature, blood pressure, and heart rate.
To do its jobs effectively, your thyroid gland uses the mineral iodine. Because humans don’t produce iodine, you need to get it from the foods you eat so that your thyroid can absorb enough of it to keep your metabolism functioning well.
Thyroid disorders: The big three
While many disorders can strike your thyroid, the majority of people with a thyroid issue have one of three disorders. Here’s a closer look:
Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
When you have an underactive thyroid, your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones. This can cause a condition called hypothyroidism.
Hypothyroidism causes your body functions to slow. This includes your metabolism. But because this issue generally starts and progresses gradually, it’s not always easy to recognize when there’s a problem.
For example, when hypothyroidism first starts, you might just feel more tired than normal, even when you’re getting enough sleep. As the condition progresses, you might develop other symptoms, including:
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Depression and fatigue
- Heavy menstrual cycles
- Muscle aches
- Underactive sweat glands
- Unexplained weight gain or difficulty losing weight
- Slow heart rate
Be sure to contact Dr. Chen if you recognize these symptoms, since when left untreated, hypothyroidism can lead to additional health concerns.
Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
When you have an overactive thyroid gland, or hyperthyroidism, your thyroid produces too many thyroid hormones. Hyperthyroidism can be triggered by different underlying conditions, like Graves’ disease, which is an autoimmune condition, and inflammation.
It’s not always easy to spot the warning signs of an overactive thyroid. Some of the most common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Thinning hair
- Fragile skin and brittle nails
- Racing heart
- Unexplained weight loss
- Trouble sleeping
Untreated hyperthyroidism can lead to serious health issues, including heart, bone, and muscle problems. And in women, this condition can cause complications with fertility and pregnancy.
On the back side of your thyroid, there are several small glands called parathyroid glands. These glands are part of the endocrine system, and because of their location, they’re treated by the same specialists.
They secrete a hormone (PHT) that regulates the exchange of calcium between your bones and your blood. Parathyroid disease, or hyperparathyroidism, leads to an overproduction in PHT hormones.
As a result, too much calcium gets removed from your bones and you develop osteoporosis, or brittle bones. In addition, your risk of having a stroke increases. Symptoms of hyperparathyroidism vary, but may include:
- Generally feeling sick or “off,” but without an obvious cause
- Bone pain, especially in your legs
- Headaches, depression, inability to concentrate
- Trouble sleeping, general fatigue
- Muscle cramps, heart palpitations
- Elevated blood pressure
- Decreased libido
- Elevated blood calcium
Your OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare provider measures your PHT and calcium hormone levels to diagnose this condition.
Treating thyroid conditions
The right treatment for your thyroid condition begins with an accurate diagnosis. Dr. Chen can check your thyroid and PHT levels using a simple blood test. Once Dr. Chen understands which thyroid disorder you have, he creates a personalized thyroid treatment plan that best meets your needs.
Depending on your condition, Dr. Chen may recommend medications to help bring your thyroid hormones into balance. Other types of thyroid conditions may require surgical intervention. Some patients may need both surgery and medication.
Worried about your thyroid gland? Uncover the condition affecting your health by scheduling an appointment online or over the phone with Dr. Chen at the OasisMD Lifestyle Healthcare location nearest you.