It's a little gland at the base of your neck that plays a big role in how your body functions.
Cotton-O'Neil endocrinologist Dr. Rob Coleman describes the thyroid as the "gas pedal for the body." The gland secretes a hormone that controls your metabolism. Dr. Coleman says the most common problems with it are producing too much of the hormone or too little of it.
Too little - known as hypothyroidism - affects nearly two percent of women, and one in a thousand men. The symptoms can be tough to call. Dr. Coleman says it's like a depression, where it slows down bodily function. A person might have slower mental processes. He says the condition can also slow down the bowels, cause thinning hair and dry skin, and may lead to weight gain.
Too much of the hormone - called hyperthyroidism - has the opposite affect. Dr. Coleman says it speeds things up, and you may be going to the bathroom more frequently; experience nervousness and jitteriness; start speaking rapidly; or possibly experience a rapid heartbeat.
Left untreated for long periods of time, both conditions can snowball into a state that leads to loss of consciousness.
You can't prevent thyroid disfunction, but the conditions can be treated. The trick with such non-descript symptoms is knowing when you might need to be tested. Dr. Coleman says if you're experiencing the host of symptoms and have a family history of thyroid disease, it's a good idea to get screened with a simple blood test.
For more information on thyroid disease, click www.thyroid.org, for the American Thyroid Association's web site.