When discussing thyroid health I am typically asked a few questions. “What is a thyroid? or What is the purpose of a thyroid and its function?" Sometimes people say they have never even heard of a thyroid before. The first step to creating an awareness of thyroid disease is having a clear understanding of what the thyroid is, where it is located in the body, and what it is responsible for.
The thyroid is the master gland of the human body. It is shaped like a butterfly, and is often referred to as the butterfly gland (hence my blog name). The thyroid is located in your neck, on either side of your windpipe. It is not a very large gland, covering about two inches across, but it is responsible for the function of every single cell in your body.
The thyroids main purpose is to store, produce and release vital hormones into our bodies. These hormones control digestion, skin and hair health, metabolic rate, energy levels, body temperature, blood pressure, heart rate, stress response, mood and more. As mentioned, it is the master gland and is responsible for nearly every function in the body.
Now that you know what a thyroid is, where it is located and what it is responsible for, you can understand why someone with thyroid issues, who is not optimally treated, suffers so greatly. It is not just our thyroid gland that is affected by thyroid disease, it is our whole body, both physically and mentally. In today’s post I am going to discuss the differences between the most common thyroid health issues seen today. Please keep in mind there are many other thyroid conditions out there and that I am not a medical professional, just a thyroid patient who likes to read and advocate for thyroid health.
Hypothyroidism and Hashimoto’s Disease
Some people confuse Hypothyroidism with Hashimoto’s disease, and although 90% of people who suffer from Hypothyroidism also have Hashimoto’s, they are not the same thing. Hypothyroidism is an under-active thyroid gland. A patient with Hypothyroidism does not produce or release enough thyroid hormone into their body. Although the symptoms vary depending on each individual case, the typical signs of Hypothyroidism include:
Lack of motivation
Depression, anxiety or other mental disorders
Brittle hair, or hair loss
Mood swings, irritability
Brain fog, memory loss
Dry, sensitive, itchy skin
Intolerance to cold or heat
Muscle and joint pain
Poor sleep quality
The list goes on and on. Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis, on the other hand, is an autoimmune disease, whereby the immune system creates antibodies that attack the thyroid gland, essentially destroying the thyroid tissue. Individuals may have differing triggers but often Hashimoto’s is caused by a range of factors, including but not limited to, food sensitivities, gut-related issues, inflammation, chronic stress, exposure to mold, or environmental toxins, and more. To be diagnosed with Hashimoto’s disease you must carry the gene for it as well as have been exposed to autoimmune triggers as listed above. Often times people with Hashimoto’s disease experience symptoms of both Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism making it difficult to diagnose. Most cases of Hypothyroidism are caused by Hashimoto’s disease, but there are cases that are not related to autoimmunity at all.
Hyperthyroidism and Graves Disease
Much like Hashimoto’s and Hypothyroidism, Graves-disease and Hyperthyroidism are not the same thing. Hyperthyroidism is an over-active thyroid gland where the thyroid over-produces hormones in the body. Some of the signs and symptoms of Hyperthyroidism include:
Irregular menstrual cycles
Nausea and vomiting
High blood pressure
Enlarged thyroid gland
The list continues. Some of the main causes of Hyperthyroidism are Graves-disease, toxic goiters, inflammation of the thyroid gland, and sometimes thyroid cancer (rare). Graves-disease, much like Hashimoto’s is an autoimmune disease that is responsible for most cases of Hyperthyroidism in the United States. Graves disease is an autoimmune attack on the thyroid leading to an enlargement of the gland and the over-production of thyroid hormone resulting in Hyperthyroidism.
There are several ways to help with the symptoms of thyroid disease and autoimmune disease, however there is no cure. In some cases you can repair thyroid tissue, but if you have an autoimmune disease you cannot eliminate the gene (at least yet!). Despite what doctors tell you, you can put your autoimmune disease into remission. This means that your body will still carry the gene but is able to stop the production of antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. It is important to understand that general thyroid medication does not treat the autoimmune component at all. Certain lifestyle changes can be put into place to help relieve symptoms of thyroid issues, leading to a better quality of life. These lifestyle changes will be discussed in upcoming blog posts, so stay tuned! In an effort to make this post clear and easy to read, I have left out key information such as how thyroid disease is diagnosed, and what the options are for you once you obtain that diagnosis. I will be posting about lab work, thyroid treatments and lifestyle changes in the future as well. Whether you suffer from thyroid disease or not, understanding the thyroid gland is essential to understanding how our bodies function on a daily basis. We often do not value our bodies until they stop functioning optimally. As always, thank you for reading. I hope you learned something new today!
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