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What Does the Thyroid Do?

What does the thyroid gland do? What do thyroid tests mean?

By
Rob Lamberts, MD
May 26, 2010
Episode #048

Page 1 of 4

I really enjoyed doing last week’s article on medical mysteries, and I hope to do more of them in the future. Today’s subject is about something that is a mystery to most people, including many doctors: the thyroid gland.

What Does the Thyroid Do?

What the heck does the thyroid gland do? Most physicians will tell you “it controls metabolism,” which is what we all learned in medical school. That statement is basically the same as saying “it’s really complicated and I don’t understand it.” It also presumes that the listener knows what metabolism is, and why controlling it is important. Well, I’ll do my best to actually explain the thyroid gland. This week I’ll tackle what it does, and next week I’ll talk about problems with the thyroid gland.

Where is the Thyroid Located?

The thyroid gland itself is located on the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. It’s fairly flat, so you normally can’t feel it (unless there’s a problem). The main job of the thyroid is to put out thyroid hormones, which are a pair of chemicals that float through the bloodstream and, you guessed it, control metabolism. 

What Is the Pituitary Gland?

But the thyroid isn’t a smart organ; it doesn’t know how much thyroid hormone to put out to do its metabolism controlling. That job is the duty of the pituitary gland, which is located at the bottom of your brain. The pituitary gland is the control center for many glands besides the thyroid, but I’ll cover that in a later article. 

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