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What Does the Thyroid Do?

The thyroid is a small gland situated at the base of the neck. Each day a healthy thyroid produces key hormones that regulate metabolism, heart rate, and digestive function to name a few.

Thyroid dysfunction is common, and when it strikes symptoms are often subtle and go unnoticed. As thyroid function progressively worsens symptom severity increases. At Burlington Medical Center, board-certified endocrine and internal medicine specialist Sam Morayati, MD is devoted to providing the highest quality of care to the Burlington community. 

If you’ve been diagnosed with or have symptoms of thyroid dysfunction, it’s helpful to learn about the thyroid and learn what your diagnosis means. Here our experts discuss what the thyroid does and what happens when it fails to function properly.

Thyroid: your body’s engine

The thyroid gland plays a vital role in metabolism, growth, and development throughout your life. It produces a steady amount of hormones your body needs for a wide variety of functions. As a key player in metabolism, the thyroid is like the engine of a car. It controls how your body uses energy and produces hormones on an as-needed basis. 

Two key hormones, T4 (thyroxine) and T3 (triiodothyronine) tell your cells how much energy to use. The thyroid creates and releases these hormones into the bloodstream for use throughout the body. When your thyroid works properly, it produces enough hormones to keep your metabolism in balance.

As your body uses thyroid hormones for various functions, the thyroid gland produces and releases more to continue to meet the demand. Body cells are very sensitive to thyroid hormones. 

The pituitary gland tightly regulates the production and release of hormones by continuously sensing the levels of thyroid hormone in the blood. Through a feedback system, the pituitary gland signals the thyroid to produce more hormones when levels in the blood decline. 

Too little thyroid hormone 

Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland produces too little hormone. This is the most common thyroid disorder. Also referred to as underactive thyroid, hypothyroidism causes a wide variety of symptoms, including:

Some people with hypothyroidism develop an enlargement of the thyroid gland called a goiter. Hypothyroidism typically develops gradually. You may not notice symptoms for months or years. 

Hashimoto’s disease (autoimmune thyroiditis) is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. It occurs when the immune system produces antibodies that attack components of the thyroid. The most relevant are:

Thyroid peroxidase

Anti-thyroid peroxidase antibodies attack an enzyme found in the thyroid gland.

Thyroglobulin 

Anti-thyroglobulin antibodies attack a protein made by thyroid cells.

Thyrotropin

Anti-thyrotropin antibodies attack a pituitary hormone that regulates thyroid hormone release.

Over time, the immune system’s continuous attack on the thyroid causes the thyroid to fail. 

Excess thyroid hormone

Hyperthyroidism is the opposite of hypothyroidism. In people with hyperthyroidism, the thyroid secretes too much hormone. Just like having too little, excess thyroid hormone is problematic. Also called overactive thyroid, hyperthyroidism kicks the metabolism into overdrive. If you have hyperthyroidism you may experience:

Grave’s disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. In patients with Grave’s disease, the immune system attacks the thyroid, causing the thyroid to release too much of its hormone. 

Comprehensive thyroid evaluation

Diagnosis of thyroid disease requires a thorough thyroid assessment by a specialist like Dr. Morayati. Relevant blood tests to thyroid hormone levels help aid in a diagnosis. Dr. Morayati may order imaging tests such as ultrasound when appropriate. Once a diagnosis is confirmed, Dr. Morayati develops an individualized treatment plan to restore your thyroid levels to normal. The specific treatment depends on your diagnosis. 

A thyroid evaluation provides the answers you need about how your thyroid is functioning. Prompt diagnosis paves the way for treatment so that you get on the path to feeling and functioning better. To learn more, and to schedule an appointment with Dr. Morayati at our Burlington, North Carolina office to discuss your thyroid health, contact us at Burlington Medical Center. We offer in-person and telehealth appointments.

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