The thyroid is a large endocrine gland found in the neck within the human body. It regulates the speed at which energy is burned and protein is made, as well as the sensitivity the body should have toward other hormones. When thyroid problems affect an individual, different diseases can be present.
Producing its own hormones is how this gland goes about its regulative function. Such hormones produced are triiodothyronine (T3), thyroxine (T4) and calcitonin. Iodine is required for T3 and T4, which control metabolism and affect growth of body systems. Calcitonin assists in maintaining proper calcium levels in the body (known as calcium homeostasis or calcium metabolism).
Types of problems
With this gland's important functions and role in the body, problems can arise when it is not healthy or for any reason not working properly. There are several categories of thyroid disease, which separate the conditions based on general types of issues:
Hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid function)
Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid function)
Tumors (including thyroid cancer)
Each major category holds several unique thyroid problems. Some maladies are more severe than others, and some may be more difficult to relieve, treat or even prevent. Methods used for diagnosis may vary from one specific disease to the other. The same can be said for treatment, which may involve medicine, surgery, and other methods.
Symptoms and complications
Left untreated, thyroid problems may lead to other conditions and symptoms such as raised cholesterol levels, heart disease, osteoporosis, muscle weakness, and infertility. Loss and gain of weight are also issues that may arise. The particular symptoms that a patient experiences can be different within specific thyroid problems, as well as in any given case. Ultimately, in some cases, this type of illness may result in coma or death for the patient.
Some thyroid diseases are autoimmune, including the more common Graves' disease and Hashimoto's thyroiditis. Autoimmune conditions involve responses by the immune system against the body of which it is a part.
The gland itself is controled by the hypothalamus (link between endocrine and nervous systems) and hypophysis (pituitary gland). In 1656, English anatomist Thomas Wharton was the first to identify the thyroid in modern times. Wharton's duct now holds his name.
The Greek word that spawned thyroid, Thyreos, means "shield." In humans, this gland commonly weighs between 12 and 20 grams, and its shape is reminiscent of a butterfly.