January is Thyroid Awareness Month 
Get to know this powerful gland



The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped endocrine gland that is located in the front of the neck. By producing hormones that travel throughout the blood, it regulates metabolism and energy levels and affects the functioning of virtually every system in the body. Thyroid hormones help regulate heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen consumption, digestion, body temperature, weight, and control physical growth and brain maturation in babies and children.  Most thyroid gland disorders are either underactive (hypothyroidism) or overactive (hyperthyroidism). 

Hypothyroidism - An underactive thyroid produces lower amounts of thyroid hormone than is required by the body. Energy is burned more slowly and physical and mental processes become sluggish. In babies and children, the early diagnosis and treatment of a thyroid hormone deficiency is crucial to ensure normal physical and brain development.  Individuals with Down syndrome, Prader-Willi syndrome and Turners syndrome commonly have hypothyroidism.  

The following are some common signs and symptoms of an underactive thyroid:

Depression Cold intolerance
Trouble concentrating Constipation
Sluggishness Joint pain
Dry skin and hair Heart failure
Weight gain Elevated cholesterol levels


Hyperthyroidism - An overactive thyroid gland generates too much thyroid hormone and the body burns energy at a faster rate. This causes the heart to beat faster and increases heart rate and blood pressure.  The acceleration of bone loss may occur, as well.                                                                                                           

The following are some common signs and symptoms of an overactive thyroid:

Nervousness, anxiety and irritability Heat intolerance
Weight loss Excessive perspiration
Hand tremors Frequent bowel movements
Fast, irregular heartbeat Increased appetite
Muscle weakness Insomnia


In some cases, thyroid disorders are overlooked as the cause of heart problems.  Anyone who has symptoms of a thyroid disorder should consult their doctor. A physical exam and blood tests can confirm the diagnosis of hypothyroidism or hyperthyroidism. Both conditions are often treated with medication.

For more information, see our Hypothyroidism Health Care Activity Plan (HPAP) and Hyperthyroidism Health Care Activity Plan (HPAP).