January is thyroid awareness month, which is a perfect time to educate yourself on the function and health of your own thyroid. Learn more about the most frequently asked questions!
Endocrinologist Elizabeth Ensminger, MD
Our newest Endocrinologist, Elizabeth Ensminger, is a native of West Palm Beach, Florida, who grew up in Tampa and earned her MD from the University of Miami. She is now wrapping up a residency at Boston Medical Center.
Recently married Dr. Ensminger and her husband have just closed on a home in North Andover.
“It’s been an incredibly busy time,” she says, “between finishing my residency, getting married, buying our home, and starting a new job!”
Describing her experience at BMC as an “incredible experience” where she saw “everything under the sun, from adrenal, thyroid and pituitary problems to every stage of diabetes,” Elizabeth describes it as “great training to go on and start my own practice.”
Usually, she says, she likes to see her patients as part of a team, working with the patient, their primary care physician and diabetes educators. Pentucket, she notes, has an excellent group of dietician/educators and well-integrated communication among clinicians.
“Diabetes,” she says, “can be a really hard diagnosis for a patient to get. It’s a lifelong disease and it requires a lot of lifestyle modifications…
“But sometimes a diagnosis of diabetes can be a life-changing event for someone, for example, as they see their blood sugars start to improve. That’s actually one of my favorite moments as a physician, to watch patients actually get their lives back.”
Elizabeth calls Pentucket “a fantastic practice…they sold me from Day One when I walked in the doors. The practice is really patient-centered. All the doctors are friendly and they focus on the patient, which is also my focus.”
Meet Elizabeth Ensminger, MD:
What Does the Thyroid Do?
The endocrine system is composed of various glands, one of which is the thyroid. Shaped similar to a butterfly, the thyroid gland consists of two separate lobes that are connected by a piece of tissue on either side of the windpipe. It is located in the neck around the trachea.
What Hormone Does the Thyroid Gland Produce?
The main function of the thyroid gland is to convert iodine, which is found in many foods, to two hormones, triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The thyroid is responsible for all metabolic activity in the body including:
- Regulating a person’s metabolism
- Regulating heart rate
- Maintaining the gastrointestinal tract
- Stimulating mitochondria, which are the energy production centers of cells
- Regulating a person’s appetite
How is the Thyroid Gland Regulated?
Because the thyroid is responsible for maintaining so many functions in the body, it needs to be regulated. The thyroid gland is controlled by the pituitary gland, which is a peanut-sized gland in the base of the brain. When the level of T3 and T4 drop, the pituitary gland produces a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH) which stimulates the thyroid to produce enough hormones.
What Happens if the Thyroid isn’t Regulated?
The two most common problems that affect the thyroid are:
- Hyperthyroidism – Hyperthyroidism causes your thyroid to make too much thyroid hormone, which may result in weight loss, rapid heart rate and mood swings. If hyperthyroidism is detected by a physician after a thyroid hormone test, you will begin antithyroid medicines.
- Hypothyroidism – Hypothyroidism is caused by too little thyroid hormone being secreted by the thyroid. It may cause people to feel sluggish and can cause a decrease in metabolism. The most common way to treat hypothyroidism is with the synthetic thyroid hormone T4.
When should a woman see an endocrinologist?
Many female health problems can be linked to the glandular or endocrine system.
Endocrinology deals with the diagnosis and treatment of diseases related to hormones. Endocrinology covers such human functions as the coordination of metabolism, respiration, reproduction, sensory perception, and movement.
Endocrinologists typically treat:
- Thyroid Disease
- Symptoms include sudden weight change, heart rate fluctuation, swelling of the neck, mood or energy swings, hair loss
- Pituitary Problems – i.e., Diminished fertility and libido, hair loss
- Adrenal problems
- Chronic, worsening fatigue and muscle weakness, loss of appetite, and weight loss
- Ovarian Problems
- Bloating, pelvic or abdominal pain, appetite loss/ feeling full
Symptoms of these diseases are often first addressed by the patient’s primary care or OB-GYN physician.
If symptoms persist, patients should consider asking for a referral to an endocrinologist.
Thyroid Diseases: Symptoms and Remedies
Our thyroid gland is a gland which is present in the neck. It produces thyroid hormone that affects many body functions and metabolism.
Hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid, results from reduced effects of thyroid hormone on tissues.
People at higher risk of hypothyroidism include:
- those who have a personal or family history of autoimmune disease
- women after pregnancy
- those with a history of head/neck radiation
- people who are of an age greater than 65 years.
The symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- cold intolerance
- weight gain
- menstrual irregularities
- dry skin
- brittle hair
A blood test will help with the diagnosis and the treatment is a thyroid hormone supplement which is taken on an empty stomach. A half to one hour before breakfast is best for optimal absorption.
The other side of the spectrum is Hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid, which results from too much thyroid hormone on tissues.
The signs and symptoms of hyperthyroidism are:
- feeling hot
- frequent bowel movements
- weight loss
Hyperthyroidism may also sometimes affect the eyes, producing eyelid retraction and stare.
Untreated hyperthyroidism can cause atrial fibrillation (irregular heart beat), high blood pressure and loss of bone mass over time. If hyperthyroidism is diagnosed by a blood test, then the treatment is with anti-thyroid medication. Definitive treatment is by radioactive ablation of the thyroid or thyroid surgery.