Getting to Know Your Thyroid Gland

The thyroid gland is an important part of the endocrine system. The endocrine system is responsible for producing hormones. Hormones are chemical messengers that are used to send signals through the body in order to regulate many different processes.

The thyroid gland is located in the neck. It produces the hormones thyroxine and triiodothyronine, which are responsible for regulating the rate of the metabolism. If the thyroid gland is under active, it does not produce sufficient levels of these hormones to keep the metabolism working as fast as it should be. This condition is known as hypothyroidism.

Hypothyroidism or an under active thyroid can cause a wide range of different symptoms, including weight gain, depression, fatigue, intolerance to the cold, irregular menstrual periods and pale, dry skin. The thyroid gland can become enlarged. This is known as goiter. Other less common symptoms of hypothyroidism are hair loss, sluggish reflexes, anemia and difficulty concentrating.

There are a number of different reasons why the thyroid gland may become under active. In some cases, some or all of the thyroid gland tissue may be damaged by inflammation that has arisen due to an infection. If the immune system begins to attack the tissue of the thyroid gland during an infection, then it can damage the thyroid gland and prevent it from producing adequate levels of thyroid hormones. If the cause of hypothyroidism is autoimmune disease, the condition is known as Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Other causes of hypothyroidism include surgical removal of the thyroid gland and medical treatment with radioactive iodine. In some cases, a congenital defect can also lead to hypothyroidism.

If the condition is not treated, then hypothyroidism can lead to more serious consequences. The complications that can occur in a severe case of hypothyroidism include an increased risk of developing an infection, infertility, problems during pregnancy, miscarriages and heart disease. In the worst cases, the patient can fall into a myxedema coma, which can be life-threatening.

Hypothyroidism can be a very serious condition, but it is very treatable once it is diagnosed. Synthetic thyroid hormones are available that can be taken daily in order to replace the hormones that are not being produced by the thyroid gland. This treatment will usually have to be continued for the rest of the patient’s life, as the thyroid is rarely able to begin functioning properly again. The dose of thyroid hormone treatment that is required can change over time, however. The levels of thyroid hormones in the bloodstream need to be monitored, usually on an annual basis, in order to check that the correct dosage is being administered.


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