Thyroid Levels – You And Your Thyroid

Meet your best friend — your thyroid. If your thyroid isn’t functioning properly, little else in your body functions properly. This little gland sits at the base of your throat in the notch of your collarbone. It is often called the “butterfly gland” because of its shape.

Our thyroid oversees every function in our body. An upset thyroid will reveal itself in two forms: underactive (hypothyroid); or overactive (hyperthyroid).

The health of your thyroid and how it functions is revealed through a blood test as requested by your regular family doctor. When you receive the blood test requisition, ensure that it does ask for a thyroid function test. This is called a TSH, or Thyroid Stimulating Hormone. This test is usually adequate to determine if there is a problem, but if your doctor is concerned, she may also request a Free T4 test, which tests another background aspect of the thyroid function.

Symptoms of hyperthyroid (overactive, and in extreme cases is called Grave’s Disease)

Heart palpitations
Tremors (when you hold your hands out in front of you, your hands shake noticeably)
Feeling hot or overheated
Profuse body sweating
Unexplained weight loss
Hair falling out in noticeable amounts
Premature grayness
Muscle waste (you notice your muscle tone and strength is decreasing, even in the face of regular exercise)
Migraine headache
High blood pressure
Difficulty conceiving
Diminished immune system (you seem to catch every little cold or flu bug)
Poor digestion and upset stomach, nausea
Constipation and/or diarrhea
Emotional instability (anger, aggression, impatience)

A note here about Grave’s Disease having an additional symptom. In severe overactive state, the muscles around the optic nerve behind the eye will swell, sometimes slightly, sometimes greatly. This swelling puts pressure on the optic nerve as well as forcing the eye to protrude forward. Grave’s Disease sufferers tend to have very prominent eyes, almost a bulging look, with the white of the eye visible all around the the colored iris. This condition is dangerous and can affect the eyesight permanently. It is critical to be under the care of qualified eye doctor who is familiar with Grave’s Disease and it’s impact.

Grave’s Disease is my condition, and I was under the care of an eye specialist for several years until he determined that the danger was over and I could attend a regular eye doctor for yearly examinations.

Symptoms of hypothyroid (underactive, and in extreme cases is called Hashimoto’s Syndrome)

Heart palpitations, often accompanied by anxiety
Feeling cold, in spite of surroundings being warm
Dry, scaly skin
Unexplained weight gain
Low blood pressure
Difficulty conceiving
Elevated cholesterol
Poor digestion and upset stomach
Constipation and/or diarrhea
Emotional instability (fear, insecurity, weepiness)

The problem with thyroid symptoms, whether hypo or hyper, is that they can come on gradually one by one. Each symptom can begin so subtly that you don’t realize until months later that “hey, I feel terrible.” Also, the symptoms alone or in a group of two or three can also be associated with many other conditions. Take half of the symptoms and you’ve just described your PMS days.  This is the danger of the thyroid. If the thyroid function is not checked regularly, we may be chasing and treating other conditions in vain.

What causes our thyroid to change? It can be many things. My doctor told me that at “middle age” (thanks for that, by the way!) the thyroid can sometimes decide that it will function at a lower level, just in the same way that our eyesight fades resulting in needing glasses. A time of prolonged or severe stress can knock out our thyroid, as well as our other hormone levels. Thyroid problems also run in families, and mostly affect women. Check with your aunts, grandmother, and mother. With thyroid function testing really only coming to light in the past twenty years, it is possible that some members of your family have suffered with this and it has gone undiagnosed. The thyroid is getting a lot of press these days since Oprah announced that she is struggling with a hypothyroid condition.

Once you have a blood test and determine your thyroid is either hypo or hyper, what happens next?

Hypothyroid (underactive) can be treated easily with a synthetic pill. Thyroid medication has been around for decades and has been proven to be very effective with little side effect. If you do want to opt for a natural supplement, your Naturopathic Doctor can give you thyroid granules, which simply melt under your tongue.

Hyperthyroid (overactive) is a little more complicated. If the thyroid is over functioning, that function needs to be reduced. The most common method is an old one which is still used to this day. Radioactive Iodine Treatment. This treatment is completely painless, but the method can be unnerving. You will be asked to drink a container of water containing Radioactive Iodine. There is no taste to it and it doesn’t hurt to drink it. With this method, it is difficult for the physician to order the exact correct amount of Radioactive Iodine to correct the thyroid, and often what happens is that a bit too much is given. When this happens it puts the patient into a hypothyroid state which then requires some thyroid medication to bring the thyroid function up to the level needed for optimal health.