Cora Lanyon

The Small Gland With a Big Impact

The Small Gland With a Big Impact

The thyroid. That unassuming, hormone-producing, butterfly-shaped gland at the front of the neck. It does its own thing, and we rarely, if ever, give it a second thought. However, you may be surprised to know that it plays a vital role in pretty much every function of the body. If your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, chances are you are experiencing negative effects. Many people with thyroid issues don’t realize that the symptoms they’re experiencing could actually be caused by the thyroid, and live undiagnosed for years!

According to the American Thyroid Association, more than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime. Approximately 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and infertility. An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease.

Dr. Neil Ravin, director of Center for Diabetes & Endocrinology at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, explains, “The thyroid gland makes only one physiologically important hormone — the thyroid hormone.” That hormone plays a significant role in almost every cell, tissue, and organ in the body.


Common Thyroid Conditions and Their Effects On The Body

When the thyroid gland becomes overactive, the condition is known as hyperthyroidism. When the thyroid is underactive, the condition is called hypothyroidism. These are the two main disorders of the thyroid.

Hyperthyroidism

In the case of hyperthyroidism, there are three common types of immune disorders that cause it. Grave’s disease, subacute thyroiditis, and Hashimoto’s disease (which causes hyperthyroidism before going on to cause usually permanent hypothyroidism). There are other, less common factors, but mostly it’s those big three that are the culprits behind the condition.

The symptoms most commonly reported by hyperthyroid patients are:

  1. anxiety
  2. rapid heartbeat
  3. trouble sleeping
  4. irritable
  5. short temper
  6. dry skin
  7. fatigue

Dr. Ravin explains that hyperthyroidism is not a disease of the thyroid but rather a result of the immune system attacking the thyroid gland. He says, “The thyroid is very much an innocent bystander hit by an immune system firing amok.”

Hypothyroidism

The low thyroid condition is also usually caused by the thyroid being attacked by the immune system.

Hashimoto’s thyroiditis is the most common cause. Drug interactions and radiation exposure (often from used to treat certain chronic diseases and cancers,) can injure and potentially destroy the thyroid gland.

Symptoms of hypothyroidism can be harder to detect, as it can appear in other areas of functions. However, some of the most commonly reported symptoms are:

  1. always cold
  2. fatigue
  3. weight gain
  4. hair loss
  5. weakness
  6. depression

Dr. Ravin also points out that two-thirds of patients diagnosed with hyper or hypothyroidism are women.


Thyroid issues are on the rise, and unfortunately, this condition will often go undiagnosed for years. Patients suffering from this condition are given medication to treat their symptoms, but because the symptom is related to a thyroid issue, the treatment will do very little to fix the problem. If you have any of these symptoms and have found little to no relief, maybe it’s time to get your thyroid checked to ensure its proper function and explore your treatment options.

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