You may not have given your thyroid a second thought until something like a racing heart, exhaustion, or an unexplained weight increase led you scrambling to your doctor’s office in quest of a solution. Could the front of your neck’s much-discussed but little-understood gland be to blame?

Yes. In fact, your little thyroid gland (which weighs less than an ounce) affects everything from your heart rate to your toenails. It’s been dubbed the “control centre” of your body because the hormones it generates maintain your brain, heart rate, respiration, neurological system, weight, body temperature, cholesterol, metabolism, and other physiological functions running smoothly.

The pituitary and the hypothalamus in the brain signal the thyroid to convert iodine from food into the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4), which are then sent via your bloodstream to feed your body’s cells. The pituitary monitors hormone levels in your blood and prompts the thyroid to make more or less of them in a feedback loop.

What could possibly go wrong?

The T3 and T4 balance is out of whack in more than 5% of individuals – and considerably more women than males. According to experts, one out of every eight women will develop a thyroid disease during her lifetime.

Hyperthyroidism (including Graves’ disease), or the thyroid’s continued overproduction of these hormones, is most common in women of reproductive age and can produce the following symptoms:

  • heartbeats per minute
  • anxiety
  • irritation or melancholy
  • hyperactivity or nervousness
  • Sweating or a high-temperature sensitivity
  • hair loss shaking or tremors
  • unexpected weight loss challenges sleeping
  • muscular weakness due to diarrhoea
  • thirst has grown

Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid is unable to produce enough T3 and T4 or is underactive. You could potentially be suffering from Hashimoto’s disease, which is the most frequent cause of hypothyroidism. According to Peter Singer, M.D., a clinical medicine professor at the University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine, 80 percent of such occurrences occur in women. And the condition affects more women as they become older: 3% of women in their 40s, approximately 10% of women 65, and 20 to 25% of women 75 and older have it.

Hypothyroidism can cause any of the following symptoms:

  • Sleep disturbances, exhaustion, and a lack of energy
  • difficulty concentrating, brain fog, or memory loss are all symptoms of undesirable weight gain or incapacity to shed weight.
  • Dry skin, hair, and nails, as well as brittle nails
  • hair thinning
  • depression\sconstipation
  • cold-temperature sensitivity
  • aches in the joints and muscles
  • reduced libido

Thyroid disorders that are more uncommon include goitres, which can constrict the windpipe; nodules (50 percent of individuals get them as they get older; they are usually benign); and thyroiditis, which is caused by inflammation within the gland. Thyroid cancer can also occur, but it is curable and treatable, especially if found early.

Having your hormone levels checked

A doctor will conduct a simple blood test to discover if you have a thyroid problem, which will measure TSH, which should be between.4 and 4.0 milli-international units per litre (mIU/L).

According to studies, increasing levels of TSH can be typical as we age, says James Hennessey, M.D., director of clinical endocrinology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center.

Experts recommend that you give your doctor a thorough list of any drugs you take, including vitamins and supplements, which might affect both test results and thyroid function, in order to get the most accurate results from the blood test. Supplements that promise to “naturally enhance metabolism” might be particularly dangerous because they frequently contain bovine thyroid tissue, which may contain hormones that interfere with your own thyroid function.

Thyroid function and blood test accuracy can be harmed by eating a lot of soybean products, walnuts, cottonseed meal, kelp, or seaweed, as well as taking iodine, calcium, or iron supplements. Excessive sushi or tofu consumption might also affect test findings. And, according to Singer, if you take or use biotin products (such as supplements or shampoo), you should stop using them several days before the test. Experts also recommend having your blood collected in the morning before eating or drinking anything for the most accurate results.

Resolving the issue

If your thyroid is underactive, hypothyroid drugs such as levothyroxine (Synthroid) will restore the hormones you’re missing. The key is to fine-tune the dosage.

Thyroid drugs were frequently overprescribed or the prescribed dosages were incorrect, according to doctors, until the most recent TSH blood test was introduced in the 1970s. Taking too much levothyroxine, then or today, can cause problems including bone loss and atrial fibrillation, which increases the risk of stroke. As a result, doctors advise you to be aware of any changes you notice while taking such medications and to consult your doctor if you have any concerns.

It’s also critical to take your levothyroxine as directed. The Food and Medicine Administration recommends taking the drug once a day on an empty stomach (at about the same time each day) and waiting 30 to 60 minutes before eating or drinking.

You’ll be sent to an endocrinologist if you have hyperthyroidism, who will prescribe one of several medicines to control your thyroid’s overproduction of hormones. The first option is to get a prescription for thionamides or other hormone-reduction drugs from a doctor. The second option is to use radioactive iodine as a treatment. In such instance, you’ll take an iodine-containing capsule or drink, as well as a low-dose of radiation that destroys thyroid cells, limiting the quantity of hormones the thyroid can make. Surgery to remove all or part of your thyroid gland may be necessary in extreme circumstances.

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