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Thyroid Is a Small Gland, but it Has a Big Role in Your Health

The thyroid may be only a small gland in your lower neck area, but if it’s not working right, it can have a big impact on your health. This butterfly-shaped gland makes thyroid hormones that help your body use energy and stay warm, according to the American Thyroid Association. Thyroid hormones also keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working properly.

January is Thyroid Awareness Month, so this is a great time of year to call attention to the myriad of health problems connected to the thyroid, including cancers, Hashimoto’s disease, Graves’ disease, and hypo- and hyperthyroidism. The last two conditions are often confused, so there’s some more information about them.

First, hypothyroidism basically means that your thyroid is working slower than it should. “As your body slows, you may notice that you feel colder, you tire more easily, your skin is getting drier, you’re become forgetful and depressed, and you’ve started getting constipated,” the American Thyroid Association reports. There are many possible causes of hypothyroidism, including an autoimmune disease, certain medicines, or even surgical removal of a part of the thyroid gland.

At the other end of the spectrum is hyperthyroidism, where your thyroid works more actively than it should. Symptoms include feeling more nervous, a racing heart, trouble sleeping, muscle weakness, and weight loss. Although hyperthyroidism is associated with more energy, the body breaks down after a while, leading the person to feel more tired.

The only way to know for sure if you have hypo- or hyperthyroidism is to have a blood test that measures your thyroid hormone levels. Depending on the results, your doctor may order additional tests. Both hypo- and hyperthyroidism can be treated with medicine or other approaches. Treatment can help improve your quality of life.

For more information about hypo- and hyperthyroidism as well as other diseases associated with the thyroid, visit the American Thyroid Association’s website here.

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