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Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Information Dissection: What is the Thyroid?

With over 27 million people in America having thyroid disease, there are a lot of people wondering ... what exactly is the thyroid?  You can look it up in the dictionary, read a  journal article about it online, or read about it on Wikipedia; but, the truth is, these sources are either too simplistic (dictionary definition), too involved (journal articles), or visually distracting (like a Wikipedia entry with hundreds of links).

Here – right now – we're offering you an abridged version of what the thyroid is.  Whether you have a thyroid disease or are just curious about how the gland functions, this is good for learning the basics.

Appearance, Location, and Purpose

When many people picture the thyroid, they picture something big. Because of its important functions, people jump to this conclusion.  But the fact is: the thyroid is small.  It looks like two thinly attached butterfly wings and is about half the length of your neck. 

And that's exactly where it's located – in your neck.  The "wings" of it surround your Adam's apple on the bottom and sides, which means that it's located close to your skin.  Considering the important purpose it plays, it's actually in a fairly vulnerable spot.  Unlike the brain and heart,  it doesn't have a bone casing around it like they do.  After learning what its purpose is, you may think it deserves a more advanced protection system.

Just what is its purpose?  Well, its purpose is bigger than its size.  Although the thyroid gland is one of the bigger endocrine glands, it's fairly small given its function.  As the gland that regulates energy, produces protein and controls the body's reaction to hormones, its role is huge.  It manages the metabolism and also the growth rates of different areas of the body. 

In order to achieve these functions, it creates hormones itself – namely triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4).  In addition to regulating growth rates with hormones, it's also the only part in the body capable of absorbing iodine found in food, salt and various supplements. 

Sensitive and Prone to Problems

Unfortunately, the thyroid is incredibly imperfect.  Just remind yourself of the number previously mentioned – 27 million.  That's right – 27 million people with thyroid problems.  And that's just in the United States.

The types of problems range from minor to severe and, in no particular order, include: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, goiters, thyroiditis and thyroid cancer.  Like problems associated to other parts of the body, cancer is often the most severe thyroid problem.  Conversely, thyroiditis is often the least severe and stems from curable bacterial infections. 

Although all of these problems are individual problems themselves, a domino effect tends to happen with the thyroid.  In other words, when one thing goes wrong, other things go wrong.  One day you might have a singular problem like thyroiditis and the next day you might have two: thyroiditis and a goiter.  Really, any combination is possible.  Which is why it's imperative to get help quickly when you suspect you have a problem with your thyroid.

The general surgeons in Oklahoma City at Summit are always glad to help you with thyroid problems and other endocrine-related issues.  If your existing thyroid condition is worsening or you suspect you may have developed one, call 405-359-2400 today or contact us online.



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