A woman experiences discomfort from thyroid inflammation.

Persistent neck pain can be a warning sign of an inflamed thyroid gland.

There are in excess of 20 million Americans who suffer in some way from disorders related to the thyroid gland, and those numbers make it a more common affliction than either heart disease or diabetes. Unfortunately, a majority of thyroid disorders actually go undiagnosed and are misconstrued as some other physical ailment which doesn’t require medical attention. This discussion should help you identify when you are truly having an issue with your thyroid gland, as opposed to some other bodily ailment which is causing the symptoms you’re experiencing.

What is the Thyroid Gland?

The thyroid gland is an organ which is butterfly-shaped and is situated near the base of your neck. Its function is to release hormones which manipulate metabolism, i.e. the way your body consumes energy. These hormones issued by the thyroid regulate all kinds of important bodily functions, including the following and much more:

  • menstrual cycles
  • body temperature
  • breathing
  • heart rate
  • cholesterol levels
  • body temperature
  • muscle strength
  • central nervous system
  • peripheral nervous systems.

The thyroid is an unobtrusive-looking gland only about 2 inches in length, and it lies forward of your throat, just below the Adam’s apple. It has two sides which are referred to as lobes (these are the objects that look like butterfly wings), and they are connected by a strip of thyroid tissue, medically referred to as the isthmus. Most people have this connecting isthmus, but it does happen that in some people the isthmus is missing, and the two lobes of the thyroid remain separate.

How the Thyroid Works

The thyroid gland is one component of the overall endocrine system, and that system is comprised chiefly of glands which produce and release hormones into the bloodstream, and the hormones are ultimately carried into the cells of the body. To carry out its function, the thyroid uses iodine from the foods which you eat, primarily so they can manufacture two important hormones known in short as T3 and T4.

It’s very important that these two hormones stay in balance and do not reach levels which are too high or low. If either of the two hormones is in short supply in your bloodstream, the pituitary gland causes the thyroid to produce more hormones, and when the levels of T3 and T4 are too high, the pituitary gland causes the thyroid to reduce production.

A medical diagram illustrating the location of the thyroid gland.

The thyroid gland is located on the front of the neck and partially surrounds the larynx and trachea.

Signs That you may have a Thyroid Problem

Here are the most common signals which might tell you that you have some kind of thyroid issue that requires attention:

  • sudden weight gain – obviously weight gain can be attributable to many other factors, but when you have a sudden increase in weight without any corresponding increase in food intake, that’s a potential thyroid issue
  • constipation – when you have constipation that persists despite your best efforts to restore natural flow, it could be due to a disruption in thyroid hormone production
  • high blood pressure – when no medications that you take have an impact on your high blood pressure, particularly if you are eating healthy and exercising, that could possibly be a thyroid issue. Sometimes an underactive thyroid triggers higher levels of bad cholesterol, which can impact blood pressure and other things
  • persistent muscle pain – when you feel unexplained random numbness in your extremities, or tightening in those same areas, your thyroid gland may be responsible. The thyroid hormone can damage nerves which send signals over the rest of your body, which you feel as tingling or numbness
  • depression – your mood can be completely altered by an overactive thyroid or an underactive thyroid. This can cause you to feel sluggish, tired, depressed, anxious, or restless
  • excessive sleeping – if your thyroid gland is functioning in a very sluggish manner, that can trigger a great many body functions to adopt that same sluggishness
  • hair loss and dry skin – hypothyroidism produces symptoms such as itchiness and skin dryness which simply won’t go away. The slowed metabolism you experience can also reduce sweating. When you have inadequate thyroid hormone production, it can disrupt the growth cycle of your hair, and trigger hair loss all over the body
  • increased appetite – you may notice that things taste differently when you have an underactive thyroid, and if you have an overactive thyroid, it could be that you just can’t stop eating and you’re never satisfied
  • throat discomfort or neck discomfort – thyroid disorders can cause changes in your voice, and possibly even lumps in your throat. This can sometimes be observed simply by looking in the mirror for swelling in the area of the Adam’s apple
  • sensation of being hot or cold – because body temperature is one of the systems regulated by the thyroid gland, when there’s any kind of disorder in effect, it can interfere with the thyroid gland’s ability to regulate body temperature, which makes you feel hotter or colder than normal.

As you can see from the above, many of the warning signs for thyroid gland disorders could very easily be attributed to other malfunctioning systems in the body. In order to diagnose such disorders correctly as being attributable to thyroid problems, it will require evaluation by a skilled doctor who is familiar with the effects of hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.