Meet Your Thyroid
And keep it healthy
Don’t judge this tiny gland by its size. When it’s out of whack, your entire body is affected.
The Command Center
Your thyroid is that butterfly-shaped gland that sits toward the front of your neck. It’s like the Napoleon Bonaparte of your body: small, yet powerful. The thyroid produces several hormones that regulate your metabolism, heart rate, digestion, brain development, mood, and bone density, and when your thyroid produces the right amounts of hormones, you feel great. But when it’s sending out too much or too little, there are a whole host of physical and cognitive symptoms you may notice.
Testing and Treatment
If you’ve been feeling tired all the time and your skin’s been looking a little scaly, get your thyroid checked. Likewise, if you suddenly drop five to 10 pounds and the weight is still coming off—even when you’re stuffing your face—get checked. During the exam, your doc will first feel around your neck and examine the gland for abnormal enlargement (goiter), bumps, or tenderness. If she suspects hyperthyroidism, she’ll also look for tremors in your fingers, a rapid heart rate, and changes in your eyes or skin. If she thinks it’s hypothyroidism, she’ll look for dry skin and ask about fatigue, joint and muscle pain, and constipation. Either way, expect a blood test to check your thyroidstimulating hormone (TSH) level. If something is off, she’ll prescribe medication to get things where they should be, which may take some trial and error. Your GP should do a routine manual check of your thyroid at your annual physical, in part to detect thyroid nodules, which, along with benign swelling, might make it hard to breathe or swallow.
Hyper- vs. Hypothyroidism
Identifying thyroid conditions can be tricky. When the gland becomes “hyper”
(i.e., when it speeds up and overproduces hormones), you may start to experience rapid weight loss, trembling, palpitations, and insomnia. “Hypo” means “under,” or in this case “underactive.” That’s when your thyroid produces too little of the hormones, leading to fatigue, weight gain, cold intolerance, and brain fog. These symptoms can be mistakenly attributed to stress or menopause— making it especially confusing for women, who are five to eight times more likely than men to develop hyperor hypothyroidism. In fact, about 60% of people who have a thyroid problem are unaware of it.