What Does the Thyroid Do?
The thyroid is a gland in the front of your neck that’s part of the body’s endocrine system. About two inches long and butterfly-shaped, it plays a vital role in managing your metabolism.
How the Thyroid Works
The thyroid produces two hormones that affect things like how deeply you breathe, how fast your heart beats, and your body weight. Referred to as T-3 and T-4, these hormones also help control cholesterol levels, body temperature, and women’s menstrual cycles.
Another gland — the pituitary gland — communicates with the thyroid, telling it how much T-3 and T-4 your body needs.
General Symptoms of Thyroid Problems
Improper thyroid function can affect many areas in the body. Symptoms include:
- Exhaustion. Your thyroid may be underactive if you’re still tired in the morning or all day after a full night’s sleep. With hyperthyroidism, you may experience insomnia that leaves you exhausted during the day.
- Anxiety or depression. Mood issues can be symptoms of thyroid disease.
- Swollen neck. Thyroid disease can produce swelling in the neck that causes a hoarse voice and difficulty swallowing.
- Muscle or joint pain. Improper thyroid functioning can cause pain in your muscles and joints.
- Dry skin or hair loss. Thyroid disease often affects the skin and hair. Your skin may become dry and scaly. Your hair may thin and start to fall out.
- Bowel problems. People with hypothyroidism often experience constipation. An overactive thyroid gland can cause diarrhea or more frequent bowel movements.
- Menstrual issues. Heavier and more frequent periods are linked to hypothyroidism. Women with hyperthyroidism often experience shorter, lighter, or infrequent periods.
- Weight gain or loss. Unexplained weight gain is one of the top reasons women see their doctor. It’s also one of the leading indicators of an underactive thyroid. Unexplained weight loss can also indicate a thyroid problem.
- High cholesterol. High cholesterol levels unresponsive to diet, exercise, or cholesterol-lowering medications can be signs of undiagnosed hypothyroidism.
Common Thyroid Conditions
Some of the most common thyroid problems include:
When your thyroid doesn’t produce enough thyroid hormones, you may experience weight gain, tiredness, feeling cold, poor concentration, and depression.
If your thyroid is producing too much thyroid hormone, symptoms include weight loss, feeling uncomfortably warm, anxiety, and, in some cases, sore eyes or the feeling that they are gritty.
A goiter is when a problem with your thyroid causes it to swell, causing a hoarse voice, coughing, and trouble swallowing. Goiters can also result from lack of iodine, which the thyroid gland needs to function properly. However, most people in the U.S. get enough iodine because it’s an additive in table salt.
Nodules and thyroid cancer
Nodules are growths that develop on the thyroid gland. In some cases, they can be cancerous.
Thyroid eye disease
Thyroid eye disease (TED) is caused by an overactive thyroid resulting from Graves’ disease. Symptoms include intolerance of bright light, bulging eyes, watery eyes or dryness and grittiness, eyelid redness and swelling, and bags under the eyes.
This is a temporary condition that can happen following childbirth. Symptoms include muscle weakness, anxiety, nervousness, weight loss, rapid heartbeat, inability to focus, and feeling uncomfortably warm.
Diagnosing and Treating Thyroid Problems
If you experience symptoms of thyroid disease, your doctor will ask you about them, talk with you about any family history of thyroid problems, and examine your neck. They’ll order a blood test if they feel you may have hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism.
This test measures hormone levels to determine if your thyroid is producing too little or too much T-3 and T-4. It also assesses pituitary gland activity by measuring thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). One blood test is typically sufficient to diagnose thyroid problems, but additional tests may sometimes be required.
The good news about thyroid problems is that they are treatable. Often, treatment involves daily medication, but other interventions like surgery may be used if appropriate.
Talk With Your Baptist Health Physician About Thyroid Problems
Thyroid disease is common and treatable. If you’re experiencing symptoms, contact your Baptist Health physician. They’ll diagnose your problem and provide a treatment plan, often in collaboration with a specialist called an endocrinologist.
If you don’t have a primary care physician, locate a doctor near you using our online provider directory.