The thyroid gland situated in the neck either side of the windpipe, produces a hormone called Thyroxin, which is responsible for regulating the bodies metabolism.
Metabolism is where chemical components (especially those of ingested food) are broken down and reconstituted to form other substances vital for growth and regeneration. Metabolism is conducted on a cellular level and thyroxin is just one of the hormones involved which controls the amount of energy the cells produce. Too much thyroxin produced leads to Hyperthyroidism, too little leads to Hypothyroidism.
Blood tests can detect the level of Thyroxin in the body and must first be carried out to confirm the diagnosis. Thyroid disorders are more common in women than men and Hyperthyroidism is most common in women between 20 and 50.
Hyperthyroidism leads to the heart rate being raised above normal, often with palpitations, sweating, fine tremors, hot flushes and an inability to relax or settle down. Weight loss is common as the need to 'rush around' burns off extra calories at the same time the body burning off energy faster at a cellular level. This burning off energy is what produces the excess heat and leads to the sweating etc. If left untreated it can lead to exhaustion both mentally and physically and ultimately will put a strain on the heart.
Treatment usually follows along the lines of drug therapy first to control the gland. If this fails then removing part of the gland (Thyroidectomy) or treatment involving giving radioactive Iodine. The thyroid gland will take up Iodine naturally and this harmless form of Iodine will be taken up and will destroy just some of the thyroid gland cells without damaging other parts of the body.
Hypothyroidism leads to the opposite symptoms being seen. People are usually sluggish, cold, tired and there is a weight gain. The heart rate is usually below 60 beats per minute and this in turn can lead to heart failure. It is more common in middle age or the elderly.
Treatment is simpler in that Thyroxin can be given orally as a tablet, however it is always difficult to establish the exact dosage to replace a hormone that is naturally produced in the body. Therefore once the symptoms remain stable, regular blood tests are performed to check the blood levels of Thyroxin bearing in mind that even though the gland is under active it will still be producing Thyroxin in varying amounts.
Often under active thyroid glands will enlarge in an effort to become more effective, although this never usually happens. When this happens this enlargement is known as a Goitre.
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