Your thyroid produces hormones that control a variety of functions and processes in your body. Let’s talk about the functions of your thyroid, symptoms of a thyroid problem, and why doctors may not correctly diagnose a thyroid problem.
Your thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck. It produces two different types of thyroid hormone, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). These hormones regulate a variety of critical body functions such as:
As you can see, thyroid hormones are responsible for many processes that affect how you feel, which is why thyroid imbalances can cause so many different types of symptoms.
Free T4 and free T3 circulate throughout your body, ready to be used by your body’s cells whenever they’re needed (although T4 needs to be converted to T3 first), When T3 is bound to a cell, it causes the production of certain proteins that control a variety of body functions. Different types of cells respond to T3 differently, so each tissue in your body has a different reaction to levels of T3 that are too high or too low.
If you think about your thyroid as a furnace that produces thyroid hormone when it’s necessary to help maintain stable levels in the bloodstream, the pituitary gland is the thermostat that tells the thyroid when to start and stop releasing thyroid hormone.
The pituitary gland is a pea-sized organ located deep inside your brain. It releases thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH), which tells your thyroid when to make and release more T3 and T4 hormone.
Are you starting to get an idea yet about how interconnected various systems in your body are? The hypothalamus releases thyrotropin-releasing hormones (TRH), which tell the pituitary gland to produce more TSH, which results in the thyroid releasing more T3 and T4. It’s easy to see how many places there are to cause a breakdown in the amount of thyroid hormone your body produces and is able to use on a daily basis!
Any sort of problem with the hypothalamus, pituitary gland, thyroid, or any of the hormones produced can result in too much thyroid hormone, which is called hyperthyroidism, or too little thyroid hormone, called hypothyroidism. Since hypothyroidism is more common, let’s focus on that.
Many doctors only test levels of TSH, but that doesn’t give a complete picture of how the thyroid is working. It could be that your pituitary gland is telling your thyroid to produce enough T4 and T3, but your cells are unable to use it properly. For the best diagnosis, a doctor should test levels of free T3 and free T4 in addition to the TSH.
If you or your doctor suspect that you have Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder that’s the most common cause of hypothyroidism, they may also test to see if you have thyroid antibodies.
While hypothyroidism has traditionally been treated with synthetic thyroid hormones, there are a variety of other ways to treat your symptoms, including with an improved diet and exercise plan. Talk to a doctor today to find out if your symptoms could be caused by hypothyroidism.
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