Thyroid Disorders

Overview

The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland inside the neck, located in front of the breathing airway, or trachea, and below the larynx, or voicebox. It produces two thyroid hormones - tri-iodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) - that travel though the blood to all tissues of the body.
Thyroid hormones regulate how the body breaks down food and either uses that energy immediately or stores it for the future. In other words, our thyroid hormones regulate our body's metabolism.

Another gland, called the pituitary gland, actually controls how well the thyroid works. The pituitary gland is located at the base of the brain and produces thyroid-stimulating hormone. The bloodstream carries this thyroid-stimulating hormone to the thyroid gland, where it tells the thyroid to produce more thyroid hormones, as needed.

Thyroid hormones influence virtually every organ system in the body. They tell organs how fast or slow they should work. Thyroid hormones also regulate the consumption of oxygen and the production of heat.

Endocrinologists - physicians and scientists who study and care for patients with endocrine gland and hormone problems - study and treat several major disorders of the thyroid gland. We will describe these disorders briefly here. You can link to any of the conditions that you may wish to learn more about.

Hyperthyroidism

Too much thyroid hormone from an overactive gland is called hyperthyroidism, because it speeds up the body's metabolism. Hyperthyroidism occurs in about 1 percent of all women, who get this condition more often than men. One of the most frequent forms of hyperthyroidism is known as Graves' disease. This autoimmune disorder was named after Dr. Robert Graves who was among the first physicians to write a description of this disorder in 1835. This condition tends to run in families, although the exact nature of the genetic abnormality is unknown.

Because the thyroid gland is producing too much hormone in hyperthyroidism, the body develops an increased metabolic state, with many body systems developing abnormal function.

Hypothyroidism

Too little thyroid hormone from an underactive gland is called hypothyroidism. In hypothyroidism, the body's metabolism is slowed. Several causes for this condition exist, most of which affect the thyroid gland directly, impairing its ability to make enough hormone. More rarely, there may be a pituitary tumor (located near the base of the brain), which blocks the pituitary from producing thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH). As a consequence, the thyroid fails to produce a sufficient supply of hormones needed for good health.

Whether the problem is with the thyroid gland or the pituitary gland, the result is that the thyroid is underproducing hormones, causing many physical and mental processes to become sluggish. The body consumes less oxygen and produces less body heat.

Thyroid Nodules

A thyroid nodule is a small swelling or lump in the thyroid gland. Thyroid nodules are common. These nodules represent either a growth of thyroid tissue or a fluid-filled cyst, which forms a lump in the thyroid gland. Almost half of the population will have tiny nodules at some point in their lives but, typically, these are not noticeable until they become large. Significant sized nodules, greater than a half inch across (about 1 centimeter), occur in about 5 percent of people.
Although most nodules are not cancerous, people who have them should seek medical attention to rule out cancer. Also, some nodules may produce too much thyroid hormone or become too large, interfering with an individual's breathing or swallowing or may cause neck discomfort.

Other problems

Other thyroid problems include cancer, thyroiditis (swelling of the thyroid gland), or a goiter, which is a visible enlargement of the thyroid gland.*

*Courtesy of The Hormone Foundation

For more information go to: http://www.hormone.org/Thyroid/index.cfm and http://www.thyroidawareness.com/

More Links

American Thyroid Association
Thyroid Cancer Net
The Thyroid Foundation of America
Thyroid Nodules
Thyroid Carcinomas
Thyroid & Pregnancy
Hashimoto's Thyroiditis
Hyperthyroidism
Hypothyroidism
Thyroid Medications
RadioIodine
Take the Neck Check




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