The thyroid gland is a small organ that is located in the front of the neck and wrapped around the windpipe or trachea. This gland is shaped like a butterfly. It is smaller in the middle with two wide wings extending to the side of the throat. The thyroid gland has an important job to do within the body, including controlling and releasing thyroid hormones responsible for managing metabolism. Metabolism essentially is the process under which food is transformed into energy by the body. This energy is subsequently used throughout the body to keep many of its systems working correctly. In many ways, metabolism can be considered to be a generator that takes in raw energy and uses it to power something bigger.
The Thyroid gland influences almost all metabolic processes of the body through the hormones produced by it. Thyroid disorders can range from something harmless as goitre or enlarged gland to even cancer. The most common thyroid problems, however, involve the abnormal production of thyroid hormones. Insufficient hormone production causes hypothyroidism, and in contrast, too much thyroid hormone production leads to hyperthyroidism. The majority of thyroid problems can be managed if they are diagnosed and treated in time.
Going for a thyroid test
Doctors recommend going for a thyroid test if a person experiences any of the following signs or symptoms:
- A significant change in weight without much change in habits: Considerable, unexplained changes in the body weight can be a result of either hypothyroidism (an underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (an overactive thyroid). In the latter condition, the thyroid gland would produce too much of the thyroxine hormone, thereby causing the metabolism of the body to become faster, causing greater weight loss. On the other hand, in the case of hypothyroidism, the body is not able to produce an adequate amount of thyroxine, and hence its metabolism slows down and results in weight gain.
- Noticeable change in appearance: Apart from fluctuations in weight, thyroid problems may cause certain other changes in appearance. This includes having dry, brittle or thinning hair, puffy face, swelling at the base of the neck, irritated skin and swelling in the joints. While these changes can be a result of normal skin problems, if a person notices them along with any of the other factors mentioned in this list, then they should try to get their thyroid checked.
- Feeling miserable: Physical appearance is not the only thing affected by hormones. They also play a huge role in the mental wellness and overall mood of a person. While hypothyroidism can cause depression, hyperthyroidism may cause people to feel more irritable, nervous or anxious.
- Feeling of tiredness: As per doctors, people having hyperthyroidism face problems in falling asleep at night. This causes a greater level of fatigue. In contrast, as hypothyroidism may cause a lack of thyroxine, it can deplete the body of all its energy. Both of these conditions additionally can cause muscle weakness, making the body feel worn down and tired.
- Feeling too cold or hot: Hyperthyroidism can cause excessive sweating and sensitivity to heat, while someone with hypothyroidism might struggle to stay warm. If the thyroid of the body works properly, its cells would be able to produce 35% heat and 65% energy. But when facing a thyroid disease, the body will produce either too much or not enough thyroxine. Such a change in the levels of the hormone will confuse the body into producing either not enough energy or too much heat or vice versa.
The weight of an individual can also influence their sensitivity to cold and heat. The greater the weight of a person, the more likely are they to remain hot. As people with an underactive thyroid may face issues of obesity or be overweight, they might be prone to feeling hot. Conversely, anyone with an overactive thyroid might struggle to gain or maintain weight. A decline in body fat and weight can make the body more sensitive to cold.
- Skipping the period while not being pregnant: Thyroid problems can affect the fertility and menstrual cycle of women. According to medical professionals, such concerns are greater with women having hypothyroidism, as too little thyroxine might make it difficult for the body to release eggs that are needed for ovulation.
To do a thyroid or TSH (Thyroid-stimulating hormone) Test, a healthcare professional would ideally take a blood sample from a vein in the arm by using a small needle. As the needle is inserted, a small amount of blood shall be collected into a test tube or vial. The overall process takes less than five minutes. One would ideally not need any kind of special preparations to go for a thyroid test. However, healthcare providers often order other blood tests along with the TSH tests for which one may need to fast for several hours before the test. People must ask their doctor to know whether there are special instructions to follow.