Are you feeling more tired than normal lately, or is maintaining your weight seeming to be a struggle? Problems with your thyroid could be the cause.
Approximately 20 million Americans battle thyroid problems, and the American Thyroid Association estimates many more — about 60% of Americans — are unaware of their condition.
Understanding your thyroid’s effect on your health is important as an imbalanced thyroid can create many problems for your body and wellness. At Prima Medicine in Fairfax and South Riding, Virginia, our care team is dedicated to helping you improve your overall health, including the health of your thyroid.
To help you understand your thyroid and its effect on your health, we’ve created this informative guide.
What is my thyroid gland?
Low on your neck and toward the front of your windpipe is a small gland called the thyroid. This tiny gland has an important role in regulating your health.
Your thyroid is part of a larger system called the endocrine system. Your endocrine system is made up of different glands located throughout your body. While each gland has different responsibilities, together the endocrine glands make hormones that control almost every part and function in your body.
Your thyroid’s main job is to control and regulate your metabolism. Metabolism is the process of breaking down food and turning it into energy. Your thyroid also helps regulate your heart rate, blood pressure, body temperature, how quickly you burn calories, and other functions.
To work correctly, your thyroid needs to absorb and use iodine. To get enough iodine to your thyroid, you must consume it. There are many sources of iodine, including iodized salt, dark leafy greens, and iodine-fortified foods.
How does my thyroid affect my health?
Most thyroid problems stem from an imbalance in the thyroid. When this happens, your thyroid produces too much or too little of the different hormones it secretes. As a result, you don’t receive the amount of the hormones your body needs to function well.
Here’s a look at the most common health issues caused by a thyroid imbalance:
Overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism)
When your thyroid is overactive, it overproduces thyroid hormones and leads to a condition called hyperthyroidism. One of the most common causes of hyperthyroidism is an autoimmune condition called Graves’ disease. Inflammation of the thyroid can also trigger the production of excess hormones.
If left untreated, hyperthyroidism can cause significant health problems, including issues with your heart, bones, and muscles. Women can have trouble with their menstrual cycle and fertility, and hyperthyroidism can cause complications during pregnancy.
Symptoms of an overactive thyroid can also include unexplained weight loss, anxiety, racing heart, trouble sleeping, thinning hair, and fragile skin.
Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
On the other end of the spectrum, an underactive thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, which results in hypothyroidism.
When you have an underactive thyroid, your body functions, including your metabolism, slow down. Because symptoms of hypothyroidism usually appear and progress slowly, it may be hard to distinguish the signs and symptoms.
In the beginning, you might just feel more tired than normal. As hypothyroidism progresses, you may experience additional symptoms, including:
- Weight gain or trouble losing weight
- Depression and fatigue
- Slow heart rate
- Muscle aches
- Thinning hair and dry skin
- Heavy menstrual cycles
- Underactive sweat glands
It’s important to treat hypothyroidism. If not controlled, the condition can lead to elevated cholesterol, which can increase your risk of developing heart disease. It can also cause decreased mental and cognitive functioning.
Other thyroid problems
Many other problems can affect the health of your thyroid and your overall wellness. These include goiters, thyroid nodules, and thyroid cancer, to name a few of the more common thyroid problems. During your visit at Prima Medicine, our team will check the levels of your thyroid hormones and order any additional tests or imaging to confirm a diagnosis.
How are thyroid problems treated?
To effectively treat any thyroid problem, it’s important to receive an accurate diagnosis. No matter the cause, many effective treatment options exist for different thyroid issues.
Once we discover the root cause of your thyroid problem, our team will work with you to create a customized and detailed treatment plan. Treatment may vary depending on the diagnosis, but a plan may include medication, lifestyle changes, and sometimes surgery.
If you’re experiencing any of the signs or symptoms of thyroid problems, the caring team at Prima Medicine can help. To learn more, book an appointment online or over the phone today.