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Exactly why is your thyroid so important?

Thyroid Problems
A lot of factors affect how much a person weighs, but diet and exercise aside, did you know your thyroid can have a hand in it?
A lot of factors affect how much a person weighs, but diet and exercise aside, did you know your thyroid can have a hand in it?
Robert Daly/Stone/Getty Images

On the last page, we talked about how the thyroid has an impact on your body's metabolism; now, let's take a closer look at what that, and other functions of the thyroid, means to you in your day-to-day life. If your thyroid is going on a rampage, you have what's known as hyperthyroidism; if it's slacking off, you've got hypothyroidism. It's not until things start going wrong with their thyroid that most people become aware of just how much it was doing for them in the first place. Let's go over how exactly the thyroid affects your well-being, first from the standpoint of hyperthyroidism.

­When someone has hyperthyroidism -- which means their thyroid is putting in some serious overtime and producing hormones a little too enthusiastically -- a lot can go wrong with the body. Keep in mind, the endocrine glands don't normally output massive quantities of hormones; a little goes a long way. When someone experiences hyperthyroidism, he or she can have a variety of symptoms, most of them rather unpleasant.

Hyperthyroidism can cause sudden weight loss and increased appetite, rapid heartbeat (also known as tachycardia), irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or a pounding heart (palpitations). If your thyroid's acting wacky, you might develop a goiter; be sweatier than normal; feel nervous, anxious and irritable; have tremors in your hands; be sensitive to heat; experience continual fatigue and muscle weakness; have difficulty sleeping; grow hair that's increasingly brittle -- the list goes on.

Now, some of those symptoms are more serious than others, but at the same time, a lot of them are issues most people would associate with regular aging, a chronic lack of sleep or some other routine problem. If you've been dealing with several items on the list, chances are you might want to check in with your doctor for some tests.

On the other side of the coin is hypothyroidism. You'll really see why your thyroid is so important now. When the old thyroid conks out, trouble brews. This type of thyroid condition can cause someone to feel increased fatigue, forgetfulness, depression and sluggishness, have brittle hair and nails, be more sensitive to cold and feel constipated. Excited yet? The list continues with pale, dry skin; a puffy face; hoarse voice; high cholesterol; inexplicable weight gain; tender, stiff and swollen joints and muscles; muscle weakness and more.

When your thyroid's not around to rev up your metabolism, a lot of things can go wrong. What's even sneakier is you usually don't wake up one morning with every symptom on the list in full-fledged severity. You'll just have a little more trouble making it through the day without your trusty coffee, or you may look in the mirror and see your face appears a bit puffier and more aged than it used to or you could get an ache in your muscles even after just walking a short distance. After a while, you'll start to feel miserable all the time without even knowing why.

So, keep in mind there are tests for thyroid dysfunction and a number of treatment options are available. If you've got some of the symptoms on the list, it can't hurt to chat up a doctor to see if he or she thinks your thyroid is the culprit. After all, at first glance it might seem like an unimportant organ, but the thyroid is actually crucial for your body's metabolic function -- and an unbalanced metabolism means poor health in general. On the next page, there are a bunch of great links if you've got health and well-being on your mind.