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.

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