by: Laura Martin, PA-C, FirstHealth Family Medicine, Pinehurst

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. Although relatively small, the thyroid gland plays a huge role in our body. It releases hormones that control metabolism—the way your body uses energy. The thyroid’s hormones regulate vital body functions such as breathing, heart rate, body weight, muscle strength, body temperature, cholesterol levels and more.

Ensuring that the thyroid gland is healthy and functioning properly is vitally important to the body’s overall well-being.

The thyroid gland uses iodine from foods that you eat to make two hormones called triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).  These hormones affect nearly every organ in your body.

It is important that T3 and T4 levels are neither too high nor too low.

Thyroid Conditions and Treatments:

Hypothyroidism

Hypothyroidism is a condition in which the thyroid
gland is not able to produce enough thyroid hormone. Since the main purpose of thyroid hormone is to “run the body’s metabolism,” it is understandable that people with this condition will have symptoms associated with a slow metabolism.

While the estimates vary, approximately 10 million Americans are likely to have this common medical condition. In fact, as many as 10 percent of women may have some degree of thyroid hormone deficiency.  

Symptoms of hypothyroidism include:

  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Weight gain or increased difficulty losing weight
  • Coarse, dry hair
  • Dry, rough pale skin
  • Hair loss
  • Cold intolerance (you can’t tolerate cold temperatures like those around you)
  • Muscle cramps and frequent muscle aches
  • Constipation
  • Depression
  • Irritability
  • Memory loss
  • Abnormal menstrual cycles
  • Decreased libido

Hypothyroidism can often be diagnosed with a simple blood test to check the level of TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) and can be treated with medications that supplement the body’s natural thyroid hormones.

Hyperthyroidism

Hyperthyroidism, which affects about one percent of the U.S. population, is a condition in which the thyroid gland is overactive and makes excessive amounts of thyroid hormone. When the thyroid gland is overactive (hyperthyroidism) the body’s processes speed up and you may experience nervousness, anxiety, rapid heartbeat, hand tremor, excessive sweating, weight loss, and sleep problems, among other symptoms.

Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed based on symptoms, physical exam, and blood tests to measure levels of thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) and thyroid hormones T3 and T4. Your doctor may also decide to order either an ultrasound or a nuclear medicine scan of your thyroid to see if it has nodules, or whether it is inflamed or overactive.

Hyperthyroidism can be treated with antithyroid medications that interfere with the production of thyroid hormones. Another option is radioactive iodine therapy to damage the cells that make thyroid hormones. In rare cases in which women do not respond to or have side effects from these therapies, surgery to remove the thyroid (either one part or the entire gland) may be necessary. 

Don’t Ignore Your Symptoms

Treatments for thyroid issues are very effective and can be life-changing.  If you experience any of the symptoms described above, it’s important to talk with your provider.

Laura Martin, PA-C, is a family medicine provider at FirstHealth Family Medicine located at 150 Ivey Lane, Suite B in the Harris Teeter shopping center in Pinehurst. After earning her B.A. with university distinction and highest honors in psychology from UNC-Chapel Hill, Martin spent three years working in the mental health field at a treatment facility in Denver, Colorado. She received her Masters of Physician Assistant Practice from Campbell University in Buies Creek, North Carolina, in December 2016, and is a member of the North Carolina Academy of Physician Assistants. She is certified by the National Commission on Certification of Physician Assistants. For an appointment with Laura Martin, PA-C, call (910) 215-5120.