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Your Thyroid: Too Much or Too Little?

The thyroid gland is a bowtie-shaped organ in your neck, below the larynx. It secretes hormones that control how fast your heart beats, how quickly you digest food, how much you sweat, the speed at which you burn calories, and many other activities, according to the American Academy of Otolaryngology. Millions of people in the U.S. have thyroid diseases. Most of them are women.

“The thyroid is one of the endocrine glands in the body;” says family medicine physician Jennifer Turkish, M.D. “Thyroid disorders can range from a small, harmless goiter to life-threatening cancer. Most frequently, thyroid disease affects the hormone levels that govern your body’s metabolism.”

“If you have a thyroid disease,” says Dr. Turkish, your body uses energy more slowly or quickly than it should. A thyroid gland that is not active enough, called hypothyroidism, is far more common. It can make you gain weight, feel fatigued and have difficulty dealing with cold temperatures. If your thyroid is too active, it makes more thyroid hormones than your body needs. That condition is hyperthyroidism. Too much thyroid hormone can make you lose weight, speed up your heart rate and make you very sensitive to heat.”

“Because the symptoms of thyroid conditions can be very subtle, I urge patients to have their thyroid checked annually as part of an annual physical,” says Dr. Turkish. “A physical exam can identify enlarged thyroids and nodules, and a simple blood test can diagnose hormone levels. Your physician can then prescribe medication to reset your body’s metabolism to its normal rate.”

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