You’ve often heard of people suffering from hypo or hyperthyroidism. If you’ve been putting on weight or losing it without any possible explanation, it is very likely that your doctor advises you a thyroid profile. So, what is the gland? Why is it so important?

In this post, we’ll try and answer some of the frequently asked questions on this topic.

 So, what is the thyroid gland?

A large ductless gland in your neck, the thyroid has many functions most important of which is to regulate your growth and development by controlling your metabolism.

 Why is the thyroid gland important?

The thyroid gland secretes hormones which control a lot of things; like the way you metabolize food, use energy, your sleep patterns, your temperature preferences, whether you gain or lose weight and a lot more.

How does it affect your health?

Both an increase and decrease in thyroid hormone production can cause health problems.

Increase in the hormone production can cause hyperthyroidism. If you’ve been noticing weight loss despite a good appetite, an increase in heart rate, high blood pressure, nervousness, increased sweating, enlargement in your neck, shorter menstrual periods, frequent bowel movements and trembling hands, it could signal hyperthyroidism.

Decrease in the hormone production can cause hypothyroidism. Weight gain or failure to lose weight despite a proper weight loss regime, lethargy, reduced heart rate, increased cold sensitivity, numbness in hands, enlargement in the neck, dry skin and hair, heavy menstrual periods and constipation could indicate hypothyroidism.

 You are at an increased risk of thyroid disease if you have a family history of thyroid disease, are a type I diabetic, over 50 years of age, lead a stressful life, have had thyroid surgery or suffer from Down’s or Turner’s syndrome. Women are also more prone to thyroid problems than men especially during periods of hormonal flux like during delivery and menopause.

How are thyroid problems diagnosed?

If your doctor suspects a thyroid disorder, he/she may ask you to undergo some tests like Thyroid profile to measure your Thyroid stimulating hormone -TSH. If TSH levels are high, it shows that you are hypothyroid and vice versa. He/she may also check for other thyroid hormones. In a few cases, imaging and biopsies are done.

Ideally, everyone should be screened for thyroid dysfunction every five years after they turn 35. People with symptoms or risk factors should get tested more often. 

 If you are diagnosed as hypothyroid, your doctor might prescribe thyroid hormone pills which you’ll need to take for life.

If you are ‘hyperthyroid’ you may be prescribed anti-thyroid medications and/or radioactive iodine. Certain drugs to reduce symptoms like increased heart rate and tremors may also be added.

In a few cases, people might also be diagnosed with thyroid cancer. A lump in the neck with pain and swollen lymph nodes, hoarse voice, trouble in breathing and swallowing could signal its presence. Surgery to remove the gland fully or a part of it along with radioactive iodine therapy could help such cases.

Whatever you are diagnosed with, do take your condition seriously and stick to the regime as prescribed by your doctor. If untreated, thyroid problems could lead to major heart problems, infertility, Alzheimer’s disease, stroke due to high blood pressure and death.

 How can one prevent thyroid disease?

Iodine and Selenium are very important for the proper functioning of your thyroid. Make sure you use only iodized salt and eat enough seafood. If you are a vegetarian, add spinach, sesame seeds and garlic in your diet. They could give you the required amount of iodine. For selenium, you could eat meat, fish, mushrooms, soybeans and sunflower seeds.