Understanding Thyroid Hormones
Thyroid hormones are hormones produced by the thyroid gland, which is a gland found in the neck that controls how quickly your body uses energy, makes protein and how sensitive your body is to other hormones. The thyroid gland is directly related to the brain and is controlled by the pituitary gland found at the base of your brain. The hormones produced by your thyroid gland affect every cell and all organs of the body, and are predominantly responsible for the regulation of metabolism. There are two types of hormones produced by the thyroid gland: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Both hormones require the chemical element iodine to properly function.
How Thyroid Hormones Work
Since thyroid hormones affect so much of the body, they have many different functions, such as:
- Metabolism or controlling the rate at which your body burns calories
- Can slow down or speed up your heart rate
- Can raise or lower your body temperature
- Can change how fast food moves through your digestive system
- Affects muscle strength
- Controls how quickly your body replaces dying cells
Coupled with growth hormones, your thyroid hormones can also help regulate long bone growth and neural maturation and development.
Thyroid Hormone Disorders
Since thyroid hormones are so essential to your body, T3 or T4 levels that are low or in excess can lead to health issues. An imbalance of your thyroid hormones will arise from a dysfunction of the thyroid gland, the pituitary gland or the hypothalamus. Thyroid hormone disorders can include:
- Hyperthyroidism. This is often referred to as an overactive thyroid. With hyperthyroidism, your thyroid gland will secrete excessive amounts of free thyroid hormones (T3 and/or T4) in the body. Since thyroid hormones control much of the pacing for functions in your body, having excess amounts will cause these functions to speed up. You may experience nervousness, irritability, heart racing, anxiety or difficulty sleeping. Significant weight loss can also occur.
- Hypothyroidism. This is the opposite of hyperthyroidism. Hypothyroidism is an underactive thyroid gland, or when the thyroid gland is not producing enough hormones. This disorder will slow your body’s functions down. This can cause weight gain, tiredness and an inability to tolerate cold.
- Goiter. This is a swelling of your neck or larynx that is a result of an enlarged or improperly functioning thyroid gland. Goiter can also occur as a result of an iodine deficiency.
If you are showing any of the symptoms related to these disorders, your doctor will perform blood tests, imaging or a biopsy. Blood tests will be administered to determine your levels of thyroid stimulating hormone. Imaging and biopsy may be administered to if there is concern about the structure of the gland (size or irregularity) or if there is a concern for cancer.
Once you have been diagnosed, your doctor will find the right treatment for your condition. Medications, surgery or radioactive therapy are all possible treatment options for thyroid hormone disorders.