What is it?
The thyroid is a gland that is located in the lower frontal part of your neck. It produces thyroid hormones that help to keep the body in a stable state by affecting other hormone levels produced by other glands. If the thyroid produces too little of it's hormone, then a hypothyroid state occurs. Less commonly it might produce too much, causing a hyperthyroid state. In simple terms, it can either speed up or slow down the metabolism and energy consumption of the body.
How do I know if I have it?
I am frequently asked to check the thyroid by patients who believe they are overweight because of an under active thyroid. Rest assured that it is not that common to be overweight because of the thyroid, even in people who have hypothyroidism. Hypothyroid symptoms can be; fatigue, weakness, being more sensitive to the cold, confusion, irregular periods in women, coarse hair and skin, swollen eyelids, and yes, weight gain. The most common group affected are women between 30 and 50 years of age who have other family members with thyroid problems. Undiagnosed hyperthyroidism can lead to weight loss, tremors, agitation, sweating, palpitations and confusion as well.
How can I be tested for it?
A simple blood test is the easiest way to check the thyroid. I generally screen my patients for thyroid problems on annual blood work and physical exam, but may test it other times as well based on patient symptoms and concerns. It is fairly simple to diagnose by labs but an ultrasound and possibly a biopsy may be needed as well.
How can I be treated for it?
Hypothyroidism is treated with medication that can be either synthetic thyroid hormone or obtained from the thyroid of a pig and/or cow (Rest assured you would not have to do this yourself). Either way, the body does not recognize thyroid hormone from a pill as being different from it's own. This allows us to supplement your own production and return the body to a normal and balanced state. The blood levels are then checked periodically to ensure dose adjustment is not necessary, as it would be during pregnancy. If the thyroid is surgically removed or shut down, then more medication might be warranted but the process is the same.