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What You Need To Know About Thyroid Health

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What You Need To Know About Thyroid Health

What is the thyroid?

Your thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located at the front of your neck under your skin. It’s a part of your endocrine system and controls many of your body’s important functions by producing and releasing (secreting) certain hormones. Your thyroid’s main job is to control the speed of your metabolism (metabolic rate), which is the process of how your body transforms the food you consume into energy.

What does my thyroid do?

As an endocrine gland, your thyroid makes and secretes hormones. Your thyroid produces and releases the following hormones:

  • Thyroxine (T4): This is the primary hormone your thyroid makes and releases. Although your thyroid makes the most of this hormone, it doesn’t have much of an effect on your metabolism. Once your thyroid releases T4 into your bloodstream, it can convert to T3 through a process called deiodination.

  • Triiodothyronine (T3): Your thyroid produces lesser amounts of T3 than T4, but it has a much greater effect on your metabolism than T4.

  • Reverse triiodothyronine (RT3): Your thyroid makes very small amounts of RT3, which reverses the effects of T3.

  • Calcitonin: This hormone helps regulate the amount of calcium in your blood.


In order to make thyroid hormones, your thyroid gland needs iodine, an element found in food (most commonly, iodized table salt) and water. Your thyroid gland traps iodine and transforms it into thyroid hormones. If you have too little or too much iodine in your body, it can affect the level of hormones your thyroid makes and releases.

Your thyroid hormones affect the following bodily functions:

  • How your body uses energy (metabolism).

  • Heart rate.

  • Breathing.

  • Digestion.

  • Body temperature.

  • Brain development.

  • Mental activity.

  • Skin and bone maintenance.

  • Fertility.

Can a person live without a thyroid?

Yes, you can live without your thyroid. However, you’ll need to take hormone replacement medication for the rest of your life in order to stay healthy and prevent certain side effects and symptoms. Thyroid removal surgery, known as a thyroidectomy, is a common surgery that can treat certain thyroid conditions.

Where is the thyroid located?

Your thyroid gland is located in the front of your neck, straddling your windpipe (trachea). It’s shaped like a butterfly — smaller in the middle with two wide wings that extend around the side of your throat. A healthy thyroid gland is not usually visible from the outside (there’s no appearance of a lump on your neck), and you can’t feel it when you press your finger to the front of your neck.

What conditions and disorders affect the thyroid?

There are several different types of thyroid disease. Thyroid disease is very common, with an estimated 20 million people in the United States having some type of thyroid disorder. Women and people assigned female at birth (AFAB) are about five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition than men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB).

Thyroid diseases are split into two types: primary and secondary.


In primary thyroid disease, the disease originates in your thyroid gland. In secondary thyroid disease, the disease originates in your pituitary gland. As an example, if you have a nodule on your thyroid that’s releasing excess amounts of thyroid hormones, it would be called primary hyperthyroidism. If a tumor in your pituitary gland is releasing excess amounts of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), which then stimulates your thyroid to produce excess thyroid hormones, it would be called secondary hyperthyroidism.

The four main conditions that affect your thyroid include:

  • Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid).

  • Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).

  • Goiter (enlarged thyroid).

  • Thyroid cancer.


Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) happens when your thyroid doesn’t produce and release enough thyroid hormones. This causes aspects of your metabolism to slow down. It’s a fairly common condition that affects approximately 10 million people in the United States. It is treatable.

Causes of hypothyroidism include:

  • Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disease.

  • Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid).

  • Iodine deficiency.

  • A nonfunctioning thyroid gland (when the thyroid doesn’t work correctly from birth).

  • Over-treatment of hyperthyroidism through medication.

  • Thyroid gland removal.


Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid) happens when your thyroid produces and releases more thyroid hormones than your body needs. This causes aspects of your metabolism to speed up. Approximately 1 out of 100 people over the age of 12 have hyperthyroidism in the United States. It is treatable.

Causes of hyperthyroidism include:

  • Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition.

  • Thyroid nodules.

  • Thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid).

  • Postpartum thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid that happens after giving birth).

  • Excess iodine in your blood from diet and/or medication.

  • Over-treatment of hypothyroidism through medication.

  • A benign (noncancerous) tumor in your pituitary gland.


Goiter is an enlargement of your thyroid gland. Goiters are relatively common; they affect approximately 5% of people in the United States

Goiters have different causes, depending on their type.

  • Simple goiters: These goiters develop when your thyroid gland doesn’t make enough hormones to meet your body's needs. Your thyroid gland tries to make up for the shortage by growing larger.

  • Endemic goiters: These goiters occur in people who don't get enough iodine in their diet (iodine is necessary to make thyroid hormone). Iodine is added to table salt in the United States and several other countries, so people who live in those countries usually don’t get endemic goiters.

  • Sporadic goiters: These goiters have no known cause in most cases. In some cases, certain medications, such as lithium, can cause sporadic goiters.

Thyroid cancer

Thyroid cancer is cancer that begins in your thyroid tissues. Approximately 53,000 people in the United States receive a diagnosis of thyroid cancer every year. Treatments for most thyroid cancers are very successful.

Thyroid cancer is classified based on the type of cells from which cancer grows. Thyroid cancer types include:

  • Papillary: Up to 80% of all thyroid cancer cases are papillary.

  • Follicular: Follicular thyroid cancer accounts for up to 15% of thyroid cancer diagnoses.

  • Medullary: About 2% of thyroid cancer cases are medullary. It’s often caused by a gene mutation.

  • Anaplastic: About 2% of thyroid cancer cases are anaplastic.

What are the early warning signs and symptoms of thyroid problems?

Different thyroid conditions have different symptoms. However, since your thyroid has a large role in certain body systems and processes, such as heart rate, metabolism and temperature control, there are certain symptoms to look out for that could be a sign of a thyroid condition, including:

  • Slow or rapid heart rate.

  • Unexplained weight loss or weight gain.

  • Difficulty tolerating cold or heat.

  • Depression or anxiety.

  • Irregular menstrual periods.

How are thyroid conditions treated?

There are several treatment options for thyroid conditions depending on what the conditions are and how severe they are. The three main options for treatment include:

  • Medication.

  • Surgery.

  • Radiation therapy and chemotherapy.

What are the risk factors for developing a thyroid condition?

Thyroid conditions are common and can affect anyone at any age. However, some factors put you at a higher risk of developing a thyroid condition, including:

  • Having a family history of thyroid disease.

  • Having an autoimmune condition, such as Type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis or lupus.

  • Taking a medication that’s high in iodine.

To schedule an appointment with Family Clinic Hulett, call 307-688-2235.

Source: Thyroid: What It Is, Function & Problems (

  • Category: Campbell County Medical Group Endocrinology, Diabetes & Metabolism, Campbell County Medical Group Family Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Geriatric Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Complex and Internal Medicine, Campbell County Medical Group Walk-In Clinic & Occupational Health, Campbell County Medical Group Wright Clinic & Occupational Health, Campbell County Memorial Hospital