Thyroid 101: Hypo-, Hyper-, Or Just Right?
When you receive results of blood tests at your physician’s office, one of the hormones that’s often measured is TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone). But why does this measurement matter?
Here is a quick overview of the thyroid and why it matters:
What the thyroid is -- The thyroid is an endocrine gland located in the neck, just below the larynx or voicebox. Endocrine glands make hormones. These are chemicals that carry messages through the bloodstream to other parts of the body. The thyroid gland makes thyroid hormones. The thyroid gland is regulated by the pituitary, a gland at the base of the brain.
What the thyroid does -- Thyroid hormones help keep all the cells in the body working right. It does this by controlling the metabolism. This is the rate at which every part of the body functions. The right amount of thyroid hormones keep the metabolism at a healthy pace. This helps the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs work well. A balanced metabolism also helps ensure a healthy temperature, heart rate, energy level, and growth rate.
The thyroid cycle -- The thyroid hormone must be kept at a healthy level. A complex cycle maintains this level. The cycle starts with the pituitary. This gland monitors the level of thyroid hormone in the blood. Depending on the level, the pituitary sends TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) through the bloodstream to the thyroid gland. TSH tells the thyroid how much thyroid hormone to make. In response to TSH, the thyroid makes thyroid hormone. Then thyroid hormone is sent into the bloodstream to the rest of the body. The pituitary senses the hormone level, adjusts the TSH level, and the cycle continues.
Common thyroid problems include hypothyroidism (including Hashimoto thyroiditis), when your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough hormone, and hyperthyroidism (including Graves disease) when your thyroid produces too much hormone.
Common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Low energy, fatigue, depression
- Feeling cold
- Muscle pain
- Slowed thinking
- Heavier menstrual periods with prolonged bleeding
- Weight gain
- Dry and brittle skin, hair, nails
- Excessive sleepiness
Common symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Shaking, nervousness, irritability
- Feeling hot
- A rapid, irregular heartbeat
- Muscle weakness, fatigue
- More frequent bowel movements
- Shorter, lighter menstrual periods
- Weight loss
- Hair loss
- Bulging eyes
Another thyroid condition can be nodules, or lumps of tissue in the thyroid gland. Most nodules are noncancerous, but should be checked by a physician. A goiter, or enlargement of the thyroid gland, is not the same as a nodule.