The thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped gland in the neck. It produces thyroid hormones which are then released into the bloodstream. Thyroid hormones, especially thyroxin (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3) are responsible for regulation of metabolism throughout the body. These hormones affect major and minor body systems such as the heart and even hair growth.
Thyroid stimulation hormone (TSH) is released from the pituitary gland and stimulates the thyroid gland to produce its hormones. TSH, T4, T3, and thyrotrophic releasing hormones combine in a feedback loop to regulate the amount of the thyroid hormone. The hypothalamus and pituitary glands control the feedback loop.
Sometimes, the thyroid gland must be removed during surgery. Other times, the thyroid gland doesn’t work properly, sometimes from birth. The missing or poorly functioning thyroid gland results in a medical condition called hypothyroidism (hypo=low). If hypothyroidism is the result of an improperly working thyroid gland, the gland itself might be small or large (causing a goiter).
Hypothyroidism is more likely to occur in people over 50 years of age and in women. It could be caused by an auto-immune disease, infection, or pregnancy. But, it can also be the result of a birth defect or certain medical treatments, like radiation to the head or neck for treating certain cancers. But, hyperthyroidism (hyper=high) may occur from a tumor or Grave’s disease.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism include (but aren’t limited to) sensitivity to cold, fatigue, joint pain, dry, pale skin, and weight gain. Blood tests can reveal the level of function of the thyroid gland and your doctor might check your blood levels of TSH and T4.
Treatment for Thyroid Problems
Fortunately, there is an easy treatment for problems with thyroid hormones, whether it’s caused by a missing or malfunctioning thyroid. Thyroid hormone medication can be taken by mouth and your doctor will monitor your blood levels of TSH to make certain your body gets enough hormone. Depending on your situation, you might start with low levels of medication and your doctor may adjust your dosage as treatment progresses.
How to Take Thyroid Medications
While taking thyroid medication, it’s important to follow certain guidelines. Don’t stop taking the medication unless your doctor tells you to. And different brands may result in different levels of medication in your body, so let your doctor know if your pharmacy switches brands.
Thyroid medication works best when taken on an empty stomach. You should also take it at least one hour before taking any other medications. And you need to avoid taking supplements like calcium or fiber, or antacids, for 4 hours after you take your thyroid medication. Certain foods, like soy or foods high in fiber, can affect how your body absorbs the medication.