Heard of by many but understood by few, there are many myths and stories revolving around this tiny gland. The thyroid gland is located on the front part of the neck below the thyroid cartilage (Adam's apple), normally weighing less than 20gms. The gland produces thyroid hormones, which regulate body metabolism. This means that that the thyroid gland determines everything from body weight to shape, and from feeding habits to your fertility (ability to conceive).
The thyroid gland functions by taking iodine, found in many foods, and converting it into thyroid hormones namely thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3).
Thyroid cells are the only cells in the body which can absorb iodine; therefore every cell in the body depends upon thyroid hormones for regulation of their metabolism. The normal thyroid gland produces about 80% T4 and about 20% T3.
As the thyroid gland is under the control of the pituitary gland, when the level of thyroid hormones (T3 & T4) drops too low, the pituitary gland produces Thyroid Stimulating Hormones (TSH) which stimulate the thyroid gland to produce more hormones.
Clinical studies show that soybean-related foods, peaches, strawberries, millet and cruciferous vegetables like cabbages and broccoli can potentially cause thyroid gland goiters. Defects in these delicate regulatory pathways may result in hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid problem) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid problem). Symptoms include excessive fatigue, poor growth in children, poor school performance, constipation, and pain in the wrists accompanied by numbness of the hands. Further symptoms may extend to lack of sleep, hand tremors, nervousness and a fast heart beat rate.
The main risk hypothyroidism poses is during pregnancy, where it increases the chance of stillbirth or growth retardation of the fetus, or pregnancy complications. Whereas hyperthyroidism in pregnancy is known to cause fetal and maternal complications including poor weight gain and fast heart rate.
Seek immediate attention if you have these signs and symptoms:
· Shortness of breath
· Abdominal pain
· Unexplained weight gain or loss
· Unexplained fatigue
Early Diagnosis and treatment of thyroid diseases is necessary to prevent long term complications.
Dr.Renny Napoleon, [MBBS, MS, FRCS] is a General Surgery Consultant at Royal Bahrain Hospital. For more information or to book your appointment, call 1724 6800 or plan your visit at www.royalbahrainhospital.com.