What Are Thyroid Antibodies, And What Do They Do?
Having an excessively high level of thyroid antibodies in your system isn't good for you. To understand why this is the case, it might be helpful to look into what the function of the thyroid gland is, understand what some of the more common disorders are, and then see where thyroid antibodies fit into the picture.
Why A Healthy Thyroid Gland Is Important
If you are asked to name an organ that affects every part of your body, the heart or the lungs are usually among the first things that come to mind. The brain cannot be neglected either. Ask 100 people to name such and organ, and the chances are that only a few would mention the thyroid gland. This organ, which we usually don't pay much attention to unless there's a problem, doesn't just affect every part of the body. It affects every tissue in the body. Since what is happening in the thyroid gland affects every tissue, it has an affect on how the major organs in the body function. It quickly becomes rather obvious that if this small, butterfly-shaped gland isn't working quite right, the effects can be huge.
What The Thyroid Gland Does
The thyroid gland produces two very important hormones. These two hormones regulate the body's metabolism. They regulate how food is broken down, as well as dictating whether the resulting energy is to be stored or used. These thyroid hormones regulate the rate of the work to be performed by the various body organs, and in addition, regulate the consumption of oxygen throughout the body. The key word here is regulate. When the thyroid gland falters, and the way energy is produced and used in the body is not well regulated, bad things can happen.
Low Hormone Production – Hypothyroidism
One of the major disorders that can occur if the thyroid gland is not functioning properly is hypothyroidism, a condition in which the thyroid gland is not producing hormones at the levels needed to perform the normal regulatory duties. Hypothyroidism causes the body's metabolism to slow down. If it slows down a little, you may feel fatigued or sluggish. If your metabolism slows down too much, you'll either find yourself in a coma, or you'll be dead.
Excessive Hormone Production – Hyperthyroidism
Another major disorder is hyperthyroidism. Here, the thyroid gland produces elevated levels of hormone, and in doing so speeds up the body's metabolism. Hyperthyroidism is normally not as dangerous a disorder as is hypothyroidism, but the symptoms can nevertheless be rather unpleasant, and can range from muscle weakness and fatigue to heat intolerance and infertility.
Cysts And Growths
The presence of thyroid nodules is another of the more common thyroid disorders. These nodules are either cysts or growths of tissue within the thyroid gland. Thyroid nodules may or may not cause problems. Most people have them, but in most people the nodules are quite small, and thus are inconsequential. The main danger is the possibility of a nodule becoming cancerous, a situation that is rather rare, but nevertheless is possible. Nodules can sometimes grow large enough so as to cause discomfort.
It should be mentioned at this point, that as important as the thyroid gland is, one can still lead a normal life if the gland ever has to be removed, assuming one is willing to take hormone replacement medication for the rest of his or her life.
The Role Of The Antibodies
Where do thyroid antibodies fit into the picture? Quite simply, they can cause hypothyroidism, which as we've seen, can be very dangerous in extreme cases. There is an enzyme that is key to the production of the thyroid hormones. That name of the enzyme is thyroid peroxidase. Whereas the thyroid gland regulates metabolism in the body, it is thyroid peroxidase that regulates the thyroid gland itself, and keeps it functioning correctly. The more troublesome thyroid antibodies are the thyroid peroxidase antibodies, because these antibodies, produced by the immune system, attack the tissues of the thyroid, and in doing so hinder the work of the thyroid peroxidase enzyme, thereby lessening the production of the thyroid hormones, and eventually bringing about the disorder we call hypothyroidism. Stated in simpler terms, hypothyroidism in this case, is caused by an autoimmune system disorder.
Those having certain systemic diseases or disorders, such as autoimmune diseases, will often have elevated levels of thyroid antibodies in their system, but the antibodies can be present at lower levels in healthy people as well, and may never be a cause for concern.
Short of undergoing surgery to remove the thyroid gland, those having elevated levels of thyroid antibodies can often take hormone replacement pills to offset the effects of the antibodies. There are also medications being tested which can effectively fight the antibodies, and offer promise of being able to prevent the antibodies from reaching unacceptable levels. Since the immune system in involved, finding solutions to the antibody problem can be a rather complex task, but it's safe to say that this thyroid disorder is treatable, and in some instances curable.