What is the thyroid gland?

The Thyroid GlandThe thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped organ located at the base of the neck, in front of the windpipe. It is the ‘master controller’ of metabolism and plays a key role in our health and wellbeing.1 It makes, stores and releases thyroid hormones into the blood, thus regulating metabolism. These hormones are essential for the proper functioning of all bodily tissues and organs. They enable our body to use its stores of energy efficiently, thereby controlling temperature and allowing our muscles to work properly.2

Who is at risk?

Thyroid dysfunction is very common throughout the world, especially in women. Why women are more at risk than men is not fully understood, but they are not only more likely to have thyroid problems, but also develop them earlier in life.3 Certain times in a woman’s life make her more vulnerable to thyroid problems. They include:2

  • During puberty and first menstruation
  • During pregnancy
  • Within the first six months after giving birth
  • During the menopause

Regardless of your gender, you are at risk of thyroid dysfunctions if you:2

  • Have a family history of thyroid problems
  • Have an autoimmune disease such as type 1 diabetes
  • Are over the age of 50
  • Have had thyroid surgery
  • Have Down’s or Turner’s syndrome

People who have had radiation treatments or whose necks have been exposed to x-rays are also more likely to suffer from thyroid problems.5 Interestingly Caucasian and Asian people are three times more at risk if compared to other populations.2


  1. American Thyroid Association. Thyroid Function Tests. 2005 Accessed March 2009.
  2. American Thyroid Association. ATA Hypothyroidism Booklet. Falls Church, VA 2003.
  3. Helfand M, Redfern CC. Clinical guideline, part 2. Screening for thyroid disease: an update. American College of Physicians. Ann Intern Med. 1998;129:144-58.
  4. ACOG Education Pamphlet AP128 – Thyroid Disease. American College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists. Washington, DC. 2002.
  5. Roberts CG, Ladenson PW. Hypothyroidism. Lancet. 2004;363:793-803.