The thyroid, that butterfly-shaped gland at the front of your neck, influences almost all the metabolic processes in your body. Some of the main functions the thyroid is involved in include temperature regulation, metabolism, heart and blood pressure, energy, growth and development, puberty and the reproductive system. If you have an overactive or underactive thyroid, or a growth on the gland, it can trigger a whole spectrum of issues. In these cases, an endocrinologist can help.
“People with thyroid conditions are either going to have too much thyroid hormone or not enough, or abnormalities in their thyroid gland. If the labs and symptoms indicate there’s a problem with thyroid function, then the patient can be referred to me,” Dr. Kathleen Colleran, Endocrinologist at San Juan Health Partners Internal Medicine and Specialty Services said.
An underactive thyroid is called hypothyroidism. Without your body producing enough thyroid hormones, many of your body’s functions, like your metabolism, slow down. Some common symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Trouble tolerating cold
- Joint and muscle pain
- Dry skin or dry, thinning hair
- Heavy or irregular menstrual periods or fertility problems
- Slowed heart rate
“For an underactive thyroid, the treatment is thyroid hormone replacement. So it’s a pill a day,” Dr. Colleran said. “95 percent of the time we get it right, for about four percent it’s a little challenging and we need to do tweaking of medications, and for one percent of people it seems they always struggle, and we don’t have the absolutely right dose for them because we are not a thyroid.”
An overactive thyroid is called hyperthyroidism. It occurs when your body makes and releases too much thyroid hormone. Those extra hormones can speed up your metabolism. Symptoms of hyperthyroidism can include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Shaky or nervous feelings
- Weight loss
- Increased appetite
- Diarrhea and more frequent bowel movements
- Double vision
- Intolerance to heat, excessive sweating
- Hair loss and change in texture
- Swelling and enlargement of the neck from an enlarged thyroid gland
- Sleep issues
“For about 95 percent of people it’s not hard to diagnose, it’s simply blood tests. And then depending on what they show you either do further blood tests, or imaging studies, or just start treatment,” Dr. Colleran said.
When it comes to your metabolism, which the thyroid controls, you can expect to see shifts during different periods of your life. For example, your metabolism revs up during puberty and slows down during menopause for women, and generally continues to slow as you age. Dr. Colleran reminds her patients that as metabolism slows down, they need to compensate by slowing down their eating as well, or else obesity and prediabetes can develop. There are things you can do to boost your metabolism- but you must work hard!
“You can’t really speed it back up unless you do things like physical activity. That’s going to rev up your metabolism. The muscles need the calories to work, so the more active you are the more calories you are burning and the more you can eat,” Dr. Colleran said.
No matter your thyroid health concerns, if you are experiencing issues, ask your doctor if a referral to an endocrinologist may be right for you.
“Endocrinology is a problem-solving field where you are presented with very unique symptoms or manifestations and you need to try to solve the problem and figure out what’s going on,” Dr. Colleran said. “Then you can initiate treatment.”
To reach San Juan Health Partners Internal Medicine and Specialty Services, call us at 505.609.6730.