What does your thyroid do?

If you have read my post describing the symptoms I was experiencing, you will know that I was diagnosed with hypothyroidism about seven or eight weeks ago. I thought it may be useful for some of us to understand what the role of the thyroid is in our body, we’ve all got one and has such an important job in keeping our body ticking over.

If you haven’t read my post explaining the symptoms of an underactive thyroid you can read it here.

First things first: the thyroid gland is situated in our neck, just in front of our windpipe. It is small and butterfly shaped, which is why I have chosen butterflies as my featured image.

One of the main function of the thyroid gland is to produce hormones that help regulate the body’s metabolism, this is why when your thyroid is not working efficiently it causes a hormone imbalance which can affect many of our body’s everyday functions. The main hormone produced is called thyroxine, which regulates our metabolic rate, heart and digestive function, muscle control, brain development and maintenance of bones. No wonder we feel so crap when our thyroid doesn’t produce the right amount of this hormone.

If your thyroid is not producing enough hormones it is known as an underactive thyroid – or hypothyroidism. It took me a little while to get my head around this at first, initially I thought underactive meant you would be very slim for some reason but actually think about underactive meaning sluggish and slow and then you’ll get it. Your body’s functions slow right down so this will make you feel tired, achey, lethargic and cold and probably cause you to put weight on because your metabolism is not working efficiently.

Hypothyroidism is more common in women but not exclusively. It can affect men and also children. It is really important that you go to the doctors if you present with symptoms as if it is not treated, apart from the fact you will feel awful and find day to day activities painful, tiring and cumbersome, this can lead to problematic complications such as heart disease.

An underactive thyroid is treated by hormone replacement tablets called levothyroxine. I have discovered that the best time to take my daily tablet is first thing in the morning, before I get out of bed, at least half an hour before consuming any food or drink, especially any drinks containing caffeine. Eating or drinking will mean the tablets won’t do their job properly. I don’t know about you but I love my cup of tea first thing in the morning so it’s really annoying if I forget my tablet first thing and then have to hang around and wait for my lovely morning cup of tea.

On the other hand, an overactive thyroid means your thyroid is producing too many hormones – no shock Sherlock! So, unsurprisingly, some of the symptoms you can get if you have hyperthyroidism are the opposite of those you will find with hypothyroidism. You may lose weight, be sensitive to heat, have mood swings, a fast heartbeat, also difficulty sleeping and tiredness. If I think about the word ‘hyper’ it makes me think of fast and helps me understand this more. Again, an overactive thyroid can be treated by tablets to slow down the amount of hormones produced by the thyroid.

So, to summarise:

Hypothyroidism – an underactive thyroid makes you feel tired, gain weight and feel cold (amongst other symptoms.)

Hyperthyroidism – an overactive thyroid makes you have restless sleep, lose weight and be sensitive to heat (amongst other symptoms.)

It is a pretty horrible disorder to have but the good news is that – hopefully and in most cases – it can be regulated and the symptoms alleviated to some degree.

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