8 Interesting Facts About the Thyroid

1. What is the Thyroid?

Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland that measures about 2 inches long and sits at the base of your neck, in front of your throat. The thyroid has two symmetrical sides, like butterfly wings, called lobes that sit on each side of your windpipe. The isthmus connects the two sides.

2. What Does the Thyroid Do?

The thyroid gland releases specific hormones that travel through the body and regulate vital functions. Thyroid hormones help regulate breathing, heart rate, metabolism, menstrual cycles, body temperature, blood pressure, and even your mood. For this reason, an imbalance in thyroid hormone levels can negatively affects your bodily functions and your mood.

3. How Does it Work?

The thyroid gland—a part of the endocrine system—produces, stores and circulates hormones throughout the bloodstream. Many of these hormones affect cell production. The thyroid produces two main hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The production of these two hormones is monitored and controlled by two glands in the brain, the hypothalamus and the pituitary. The pituitary gland releases thyroid stimulating hormones (TSH) in order to regulate the activity of the thyroid gland.

4. Why Do You Need a Thyroid?

Thyroid hormones T3 and T4 interact with almost every cell in the body, regulating the speed of their many processes. For example, if your T3 and T4 levels are high, they will increase your heart rate and metabolism, whereas low levels would decrease them.

5. What is Hyperthyroidism?

Hyperthyroidism is a condition where a person’s thyroid is overactive, meaning that it produces too much of the thyroid hormones. In this condition, too much T3 and T4 hormones are released into the bloodstream, accelerating the speed of cellular processes. This can cause symptoms like, but not limited to, unintentional weight loss, rapid heart rate, irritability, anxiety, and increased sensitivity to high temperatures.

6. What is Hypothyroidism?

Hypothyroidism is a condition where a person’s thyroid is underactive, meaning that it does not produce enough of the thyroid hormones. An underactive thyroid, or hypothyroidism occurs when too little T3 and T4 hormones are produced, slowing down cell processes. This can cause symptoms such as, but not limited to, fatigue, diarrhea or constipation, difficulty concentrating, dry skin and hair, and joint or muscle pain.

7. Symptoms of Thyroid Cancer

Swelling, lumps, or nodes found in your neck are the most common symptoms of thyroid cancer. Large thyroid tumors may also cause neck or facial pain, difficulty swallowing, hoarseness, coughing, voice changes, and shortness of breath.

8. Possible Causes & Risk Factors

  • Age: Thyroid cancer generally occurs in people between the ages of 20 and 55, and is 2 to 3 times more common in females than males.
  • Thyroid cancer is often diagnosed after pregnancy or menopause.
  • Radiation: Exposure to high levels of radiation can increase your risk for thyroid cancer.
  • Heredity: While the direct cause of thyroid cancer is unknown, thyroid disease (even non-cancerous) can be genetic.