I’m fairly certain we’ve all heard of the thyroid gland. People have over active thyroids and under active thyroids, and we sort of all know that’s bad. Most people know that the thyroid is in the neck too, but do you know what it actually does, or what goes wrong when it causes problems? Let me explain!
The thyroid is an endocrine gland, which means it forms ‘loops’ by reacting to chemical signals and responding by forming other chemicals or hormones. It’s situated, as I stated, in your neck at the front just between your larynx and the top of your sternum. There’s two lobes (left and right) which are connected by the isthmus that bridges two two over the trachea forming a sort of butterfly shape. Thyroid issues can clearly be seen sometimes at post mortem if the gland is inflamed or enlarged, and this is very obvious in some cases.
Thyroid problems can be long or short term, and stem from the two hormones that are created. These are known as T3 (triiodothyronine) and T4 (thyroxine) and contain atoms of iodine that ultimately signal the cells of your body to work faster or slower and change the metabolism. Hence someone with an under active thyroid, or hypothyroidism, will have cells working slower which can impact many things including the digestive system causing constipation. There can be less obvious symptoms too like feeling cold, fatigue and, in those who menstruate, long and frequent periods. Opposite to that is an over active thyroid, or hyperthyroidism, where the cells work harder than they need to and can mean diarrhoea and a fast heart rate. You can imagine that either of these can make you feel pretty rough. The other symptoms here include hair loss, irritability and anxiety.
When people feel a bit off and cannot explain why, your doctor will often send you for a blood test which determines many things among which is your thyroid activity. A great explanation of how this can impact people can be found in the Crash Course video linked below, this series of videos really helped me when I had to learn anatomy and physiology for my exams. Thyroid issues can be caused by a number of things, certain diseases and autoimmune disorders can trigger thyroid problems. So too can nodules, rare thyroid cancers, or even having a baby. Luckily there are medications that can be taken to help treat any thyroid hormone secretion issues. According to the British Thyroid Foundation, one in ten people will experience a problem with their thyroid in their lifetime so it’s highly likely you or someone you know may have or will do.