Understanding Hypothyroidism and Hyperthyroidism

Woman grabbing her thyroid gland

Thyroid Disease: Understanding Hypothyroidism & Hyperthyroidism

Dear Reader,

If you are like many of my patients diagnosed with a thyroid condition, you might be surprised that such a tiny gland can have such a profound impact on your overall health and well-being. But it’s no wonder, when you consider the enormous job your thyroid performs.

Throughout life, this busy gland is constantly producing hormones that influence your metabolism. These hormones affect your mood, energy, body temperature, weight, heart, and more. So when disease causes your thyroid gland to slack off and under produce thyroid hormone, or overwork and produce too much, you’ll know something isn’t right.

An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and more than 12% of us will ultimately develop a thyroid condition during our lifetime. The risk of thyroid disease increases with age, so as the population grows older, the number of people with thyroid conditions will likely increase.

Yet up to 60 percent of people with thyroid disease don’t know they have it. Diagnosing thyroid conditions can be tricky, in part because symptoms like fatigue, weight gain, and cold sensitivity mimic those of so many other diseases. Confusing the matter even further is that many people have thyroid conditions that are too mild to meet the clinical definition of thyroid disease. This problem is known as subclinical thyroid disease, and it’s far more common than overt thyroid disease. There has been some controversy among health organizations over whether to test for and treat subclinical thyroid disease.

This report gives you an inside look at these and other current issues in thyroid diagnosis and treatment, following the latest expert recommendations and based on the most up-to-date medical research. As former chair of a task force that created clinical practice guidelines for hypothyroidism, I’m happy to share my insights on some of the key points and controversies surrounding the best way to manage your thyroid condition.

I am confident that with proper treatment, your thyroid problem can be successfully managed. My hope is that this report will help you work closely with your doctor to bring your thyroid hormone levels back to normal, so that you can go about living your life to its fullest.


Jeffrey R. Garber, M.D.
Medical Editor

Your Thyroid Gland

If you’ve never been diagnosed with a thyroid problem, chances are you’re not entirely sure where your thyroid gland is, let alone what it does. This small, butterfly-shaped gland weighs less than an ounce.

When functioning normally, it perches unobtrusively with its wings wrapped around the front of your windpipe (trachea), below your voice box (larynx). Its slight size could easily fool you into underestimating the thyroid’s importance to your health. Yet this gland influences the rate at which every cell, tissue, and organ in your body functions, from your muscles, bones, and skin to your digestive tract, brain, and heart.

It does this primarily by secreting hormones that control how fast and efficiently cells convert nutrients into energy—a chemical activity known as metabolism—so that the cells can perform their functions.

What is metabolism? Metabolism is the chemical activity by which cells convert nutrients into energy. Thyroid hormone sets the pace of metabolism. During metabolism, energy is released from carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and other nutrients you eat. The metabolic process also generates heat, carbon dioxide, water, and waste products. Your cells use the energy to carry out essential chemical transformations that enable your body tissues to function properly. Metabolism affects body temperature, body weight, energy level, muscle strength, psychological health, fertility, and more.

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