FRIDAY, April 8 (HealthDay News) -- The human body's intricate framework of interconnected systems, which work together to maintain health and life, depend on one small, butterfly-shaped gland that weighs less than half an ounce.
The thyroid gland, located in the front of the neck, releases hormones that regulate metabolism, directing the body to break down food into energy and then either use it immediately or store it for later use.
"The thyroid gland is essential to life," said Dr. Peter A. Singer, a professor of endocrinology at the University of Southern California, a past president of the American Thyroid Association and a board member of the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists. "If you didn't have a thyroid gland, you could not survive."
When disease strikes the thyroid, this directly affects the body's metabolism by altering the amount of hormone produced by the gland.
Too little thyroid hormone results in hypothyroidism, a condition that causes the body to slow down as metabolism lags.
People with hypothyroidism usually feel chronically fatigued, have difficulty concentrating and need to sleep more than normal, according to the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Their body begins to change as its processes slow down, resulting in weight gain, thinning hair, constipation and pain in the muscles and joints.
When too much of the hormone is being produced, hyperthyroidism occurs. In many ways, the symptoms are a mirror image of hypothyroidism: nervousness, irritability, weight loss, difficulty sleeping, rapid heartbeat, hand tremors and diarrhea.
Singer suggested thinking of the body as a car. "If you have a four-cylinder car, you may be going on 6 or 8," he said. "Everything is amped up [with too much thyroid], like you are on adrenaline."
Both too much and too little thyroid hormone most often result from autoimmune disorde
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