Despite its small size, the thyroid gland contributes greatly to our body’s overall health. The thyroid is a small butterfly-shaped gland at the front of the neck. Its main purpose is to produce the hormones triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4) which are key in regulating the body’s metabolism, brain development, digestive system, and mood.
Thyroid problems may be easy to miss because symptoms are like those of other conditions. Although thyroid disease can affect anyone, according to the American Thyroid Association, women are 5 to 8 times more likely to experience problems. Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) is when the thyroid does not produce a sufficient amount of the thyroid hormone. Symptoms may include extreme fatigue, weight gain and heavy menstrual periods. Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) is when the thyroid produces excess thyroid hormones. Symptoms may include weight loss, irritability, and irregular menstrual periods.
It would not be unusual for a dermatologist to recognize symptoms before you do since thyroid conditions may affect hair, skin and nails, too. Hypothyroidism can cause hair loss, dry, scaly skin on the heels and elbows, while hyperthyroidism may cause unusual skin rashes and severe hair loss.
Since thyroid disease can be difficult to diagnose, doctors rely on blood tests, scans, biopsies, and other tests to help with their diagnosis.
For the most part, thyroid disorders can be managed with medications. More serious conditions may require surgery. Medications can be used to balance hormones. For hypothyroidism, a pill can be given to supplement the insufficient production of the thyroid hormone. In hyperthyroidism, medication will help to decrease the production of the thyroid hormone. Surgery may be necessary if there is a chance for thyroid cancer. It may also be used to remove a large goiter (an overall enlargement of the thyroid) or abnormal mass.
A good diet can help maintain a balanced thyroid. Fruits, vegetables, and complex carbohydrates help keep the thyroid gland healthy. Foods that are not good for the thyroid include drinks that are high in fluoride which may damage the thyroid gland. Soy foods and foods like broccoli and kale may deter the production of hormones.
If you feel you are experiencing symptoms of a thyroid disease, please contact your doctor to be examined. You may be asked to take a few tests before getting an official diagnosis.