The thyroid gland is located just below the Adam's Apple in the neck. It measures about two inches across and resembles a bow tie. Normally this gland cannot be palpated but if it becomes enlarged it can easily be felt.
The function of this gland is to secrete thyroid hormones that control the body's metabolic rate. As with most of our bodies' systems, when it is functioning properly we are not even aware of it. When problems develop with the thyroid gland, it can manifest with many different signs and symptoms.
Thyroid disease can fall into several categories:
*Hypothyroidism: may take the form of Hashimoto's thyroiditis, subacute granulomatous thyroiditis, and silent lymphocytic thyroiditis.
*Hyperthyroidism: may take the form of Graves' disease, toxic nodular goiter, or secondary hyperthyroidism.
In this article I'll deal specifically with hypothyroidism and I'll cover hyperthyroidism and thyroid cancer in later articles. I should point out that although Graves' disease starts out with the thyroid gland overproducing hormones (hyperthyroidism), the subsequent damage to the gland can lead to underactivity and the patient will need thyroid hormone replacement therapy, which is a typical treatment for hypothyroidism.
Some signs and symptoms of low thyroid production (hypothyroidism) are dry skin and hair, hair loss, fatigue, depression, weight gain, constipation, and hypersensitivity to cold.
This is the most common type of thyroiditis covering approximately 80% of patients. It is an autoimmune thyroiditis in which the body turns against itself, creating antibodies that attack the thyroid gland. Most people with Hashimoto's develop hypothyroidism and must take thyroid hormone replacement therapy. Inflammation of the gland will initially cause the gland to go through a phase of hyperthyroidism that will eventually damage the gland and lead to a state of low hormone production. In a patient with Hashimoto's, the doctor will feel a painless enlargement of the thyroid gland.