Thyroid Disease - Describe Your Experience

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Thyroid 101: What is the thyroid and what does it do?

The thyroid is a gland shaped like a butterfly and located in the front of the neck, just below the Adam's apple. The gland wraps around the windpipe (trachea), and its shape resembles a butterfly formed by two wings (lobes) attached by a middle part (isthmus). The thyroid gland works like a factory that uses iodine (mostly from the diet in foods such as seafood and salt) to produce thyroid hormones. These hormones help to regulate the body's metabolism and affect important processes, such as growth and other metabolism of the body.

The two most important thyroid hormones are thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3), representing 99.9% and 0.1% of thyroid hormones, respectively. The hormone with the most biological power is T3. Once released from the thyroid gland into the blood, a large amount of T4 is converted to T3 - the active hormone that affects the metabolism of all cells.

Picture of the thyroid gland
Picture of the thyroid gland

Thyroid hormone regulation - the chain of command

The thyroid itself is regulated by another gland located in the brain, called the pituitary. In turn, the pituitary is regulated in part by the circulating thyroid hormones (via the "feedback" effect of thyroid hormone on the pituitary gland) and by another gland called the hypothalamus.

Picture of the pituitary gland
Picture of the pituitary gland

The hypothalamus releases a hormone called thyrotropin releasing hormone (TRH), which sends a signal to the pituitary gland to release thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). In turn, TSH sends a signal to the thyroid to release thyroid hormones. If overactivity of any of these three glands occurs, an excessive amount of thyroid hormones can be produced, thereby resulting in hyperthyroidism. Similarly, if underactivity of any of these glands occurs, a deficiency of thyroid hormones can result, causing hypothyroidism.

Hypothalamus (releases - TRH)

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Pituitary gland (releases - TSH)

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Thyroid gland (releases - T4 and T3)

The rate of thyroid hormone production is controlled by the pituitary gland. When the pituitary senses an insufficient amount of thyroid hormone circulating in the blood, the pituitary gland releases TSH in an attempt to stimulate more thyroid hormone production by the thyroid. In contrast, when excessive amounts of thyroid hormones circulate, in the blood, the TSH level falls in order to decrease the production of thyroid hormones.

Specific cells in the thyroid produce another hormone called calcitonin. Unlike T3 and T4, calcitonin is not involved in the regulation of metabolism. Calcitonin regulates calcium by lowering calcium levels in the blood. Excess calcium in the blood is referred to as hypercalcemia.

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See what others are saying

Comment from: Diane W., 55-64 Female (Patient) Published: October 06

Last week I had my thyroid removed. I have a follow-up appointment with both my surgeon and my endocrinologist, but that is a week away. I was and still am wondering what it meant when after the surgery I was told that my thyroid was unusually small in size. My thyroid was covered in nodules and pathology will examine if they are benign or malignant. My voice is deeper and very robotic sounding. I feel like I have been through a lot these past 2 plus years. January, 2007, I had a triple by-pass. I have had low energy for months and have been very sensitive to the cold.

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Published: October 06

I am speaking for my daughter. She's 15 years old. She was diagnosed with thyroid disease The doctor referred it as toxic thyroid since her thyroxine level went down to zero. She' taking medications and the doctor had suggested for her to take radioactive iodine. Accordingly it is safe. But I still have doubt about it. She is only 15 years old. Thank you very much.

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