The thyroid gland is a small gland that is located in the lower neck. It is a part of the endocrine system of the human body. Being an endocrine gland, it produces certain hormones. The hormones that are secreted by this gland regulate the growth and metabolism of the body. Here's some more information on the location of the thyroid gland and its functions.
Location of the Thyroid Gland
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that is located in the center of the lower neck region. It is brownish-red in color. It is located right below the Adam's apple. The two side lobes that lie along the windpipe are connected by a narrow band of thyroid tissue called isthmus. This gland develops during the fetal stage.
In the initial stages, this gland is located at the back of the tongue. However, it travels to the lower neck before birth. If this gland is unable to migrate to the lower neck region, it may be located high in the neck or at the back of the tongue. This congenital anatomical deformity is medically referred to as lingual thyroid.
Functions of the Thyroid Gland
The main function of this gland is to control metabolism. The thyroid gland consists of follicular cells and parafollicular cells. The follicular cells combine with an amino acid called tyrosine to secrete hormones called thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). The parafollicular cells produce a hormone called calcitonin.
When T3 and T4 hormones are released into the bloodstream and are transported throughout the body, they enter the body's cells. These hormones stimulate the metabolism in the cells, where oxygen and nutrients are converted to energy.
Thyroid hormones play an important role in controlling the metabolism, growth and development. They also regulate body temperature. Abnormal thyroid levels often contribute to various health problems.
Thyroid Gland Disorders
Hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism are both thyroid problems that occur when this gland does not secrete the thyroid hormones in right amounts. An overactive thyroid that produces excessive amounts of thyroid hormones gives rise to hyperthyroidism.
Those suffering from an autoimmune disease called Graves' disease generally suffer from hyperthyroidism. The symptoms of hyperthyroidism include fatigue, weight loss, depression, changes in sex drive, insomnia, infertility, erratic behavior, increased sensitivity to heat or increased appetite.
On the other hand, hypothyroidism is caused by a sluggish thyroid gland that is unable to produce inadequate amounts of thyroid hormones. When the thyroid doesn't produce enough hormones, the metabolic processes start slowing down and the body uses energy slower than it should.
Low thyroid levels could be caused due to an iodine deficiency, congenital hypothyroidism, pituitary gland disorders or Hashimoto's thyroiditis.
Those suffering from hypothyroidism might experience symptoms such as dry skin, puffy face, weight gain, muscle cramps, depression, fatigue, low blood pressure, enlarged thyroid, brittle hair and fingernails or increased sensitivity to cold.
Other medical conditions associated with this gland include thyroiditis, goiter, thyroid nodules or thyroid cancer. These thyroid conditions can be diagnosed by determining thyroid levels with the help of blood tests.
Thyroid scan, thyroid ultrasound, thyroid biopsy and some other imaging procedures might also help in the diagnosis. The treatment will depend on the type of thyroid problem one is suffering from.
While thyroid hormone pills are generally used to treat hypothyroidism, doctors recommend antithyroid medication for alleviating the symptoms of hyperthyroidism. Thyroidectomy (partial or total removal of thyroid gland) might be recommended for the treatment of thyroid cancer or goiter.
A healthy thyroid gland is very important for regulating growth, metabolism and overall health. Since abnormal thyroid levels can have serious repercussions on one's health, one must never ignore the symptoms of thyroid disorders.
Once the study of the patient's medical history, physical examination and diagnostic test results confirm a thyroid disorder, the patient must follow the guidelines given by medical experts.