It is a butterfly-shaped gland located in your neck. If you place the index and middle fingers of your right and left hand about an inch apart, about half way between your chin and your collarbone, you should feel a small bump on both sides that will move up and down again when you swallow.
That’s your thyroid. Your thyroid is like the gas pedal for your body, it determines the speed at which every cell in your body runs, it determines how fast or slow your metabolism is, how many calories you burn and it regulates your body temperature.
Why Is It Important?
Because your thyroid is the gas pedal for everything, if it’s giving too much gas or too little gas to everything else, it affects the way all of the rest of your body works, too fast, too slow or just right.
What kind of problems can the thyroid have?
The main issues that affect the thyroid are:
- Running too fast (hyperthyroid, Grave’s disease).
- Running too slow (hypothyroid, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis).
- Thyroid nodules (small lumps or growths on the thyroid).
- Thyroid cancer.
Symptoms Of Thyroid Problems
For hyperthyroidism, think of someone who has consumed way too much caffeine in a short amount of time: heart racing, anxiety, heart palpitations, difficulty sleeping, and weight loss are common symptoms.
People suffering from an underactive thyroid are the opposite: low energy, hair loss, weight gain, sluggish thinking, feeling cold all the time, irregular periods, infertility or miscarriage and wanting to sleep a lot.
Thyroid nodules may be felt by your doctor when he/she feels your thyroid or they may be picked up on a thyroid scan or ultrasound. Nodules are classified as hot, warm or cold nodules based on their uptake of radioactive iodine on a thyroid scan.
Hot nodules produce excess amounts of thyroid hormone, where cold nodules are inactive. 85-95% of nodules are benign (non-cancerous). A biopsy is the best way to determine whether nodules are benign or cancerous.
Symptoms of thyroid cancer include a lump in the neck, trouble swallowing, trouble breathing, hoarseness that doesn’t go away, pain in the front of the neck, and swelling in the neck. An ultrasound, thyroid scan, and/or biopsy can help determine whether you need to be concerned about thyroid cancer.
How Can You Monitor Your Own Thyroid?
Aside from making note of any of the symptoms above that you may be experiencing, you can also do a basic screening test for your thyroid called your basal body temperature. This is your resting body temperature, so it’s checked first thing in the morning, after at least 4 hours of continuous sleep and before getting up or moving around.
It should be checked at about the same time each day. For menstruating women who aren’t on hormonal contraception (the pill or hormonal IUD), your resting body temperature has two distinct phases – pre-ovulation and post-ovulation.
Taken under the tongue, normal pre-ovulation temperatures are usually between 36.0-36.5 degrees Celsius. Normal post-ovulation temperatures are between 36.5-37.0 degrees Celsius. Temperatures that consistently fall below these ranges may be a sign of hypothyroidism. Temperatures that consistently fall above these ranges may indicate hyperthyroidism.
When Should I See A Doctor?
If you are experiencing any of the above symptoms, you should see your doctor about your thyroid. Simple blood tests (TSH, free T3, free T4, anti-TPO and anti-thyroglobulin) and a thyroid scan or ultrasound can help determine what might be going on with your thyroid. The thyroid plays a role in regulating every cell in your body, so extremes of hypo- or hyper -thyroidism can be fatal, as can thyroid cancer.