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Check your neck: What the thyroid is and why it's important to your health

January 18, 2018

What is the thyroid? This questions has probably never (or rarely ever) crossed your mind. For most of us, our thyroid is a part of our body that we never think about; this is mainly because we only notice it when we begin to experience problems.

 

Where is the thyroid?

 

The thyroid is located in the front of the lower neck. It is a small, butterfly shaped gland that sits below the voice box and above the collarbone (not to be confused with the Adam's apple, guys!)

 

If you're looking in the mirror, don't be surprised if you can't find it. In fact, you should be very surprised if you can in fact see it--this is often a sign that something may be wrong.

 

What does it do?

 

The essential function of the thyroid is to make hormones for your body.  These hormones in turn help control the function of man of your body's organs including the:

  • Brain

  • Heart

  • Liver

  • Kidneys

  • Skin

A healthy thyroid is absolutely essential to a healthy you!

 

The hormones the thyroid produces are the T3 and T4 hormones, which contain iodine atoms (3 and 4 of them, respectively). Iodine is the fuel that produces the hormones and you naturally obtain this fuel from some very common food sources including iodized table salt, seafood, bread, and milk.

 

Your thyroid works under the direction of the pituitary gland, which is a small pea-sized gland located at the base of your brain. It instructs the thyroid on how much thyroid hormone to produce by using its own thyroid stimulating hormone, or TSH for short.

 

The pituitary gland makes its controlling decisions over the thyroid based on two things: the amount of thyroid hormones in your blood stream and instruction from the hypothalmus (a section of the brain that releases its own hormone to stimulate TSH production in the pituitary gland). 

 

The hypothalmus, pituitary gland, and thyroid all working together is called the hypothalmic-pituitary-thyroid axis.

 

How important is the thyroid to my health?

 

Extremely important. If your thyroid isn't functioning properly, then neither are you.  Thyroid disease, when untreated, can lead to cholesterol problems, infertility, and arthritis and a number of disease including:

If you are concerned that you may be having an issue with your thyroid, contact your doctor. They can perform a TSH test, which is a blood test, to verify your thyroid's condition.

 

You can also perform an at-home "neck check." To do so, follow these steps:

  1. Gather a glass of water and handheld mirror

  2. Focus on the thyroid area in the mirror (just above your collar bone) and tip your head back

  3. Take a drink of water and swallow

  4. Watch for any bulges or protrusions in the thyroid area

If you do see any bulges or protrusions, contact your doctor for a thyroid evaluation.

 

Thyroid disease is more common than diabetes and heart disease, and it affects more than 30 million Americans. You can benefit from a thyroid evaluation if you have a immediate relative that has thyroid problems, are taking lithium or Amiodarone, or have had radiation therapy for tonsils, enlarged thalmus, or acne.

 

It's National Thyroid Awareness Month. For more information, visit www.ThyroidAwareness.com.

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