Hormones

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Thyroxine

Print Print | Email  Email article to a friend | Last updated: October 24, 2013

Thyroxine is the main hormone secreted into the bloodstream by the thyroid gland. It plays vital roles in digestion, heart and muscle function, brain development and maintenance of bones.

Alternative names for thyroxine

T4; tetraiodothyronine; thyroxin.

What is thyroxine?

Thyroxine is the main hormone secreted into the bloodstream by the thyroid gland.  It is inactive and most of it is converted to an active form called triiodothyronine by organs such as the liver and kidneysThyroid hormones play vital roles in regulating the body’s metabolic rate, heart and digestive functions, muscle control, brain development and maintenance of bones.

How is thyroxine controlled?

The production and release of thyroid hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, is controlled by a feedback loop system which involves the hypothalamus in the brain and the pituitary and thyroid glands.  The hypothalamus secretes thyrotropin-releasing hormone which, in turn, stimulates the pituitary gland to produce thyroid stimulating hormone.  This hormone stimulates the production of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine, by the thyroid gland.

This hormone production system is regulated by a negative feedback loop so that when the levels of the thyroid hormones, thyroxine and triiodothyronine increase, they prevent the release of both thyrotropin-releasing hormone and thyroid stimulating hormone.  This system allows the body to maintain a constant level of thyroid hormones in the body.

What happens if I have too much thyroxine?

The release of too much thyroxine in the bloodstream is known as thyrotoxicosis.  This may be caused by overactivity of the thyroid gland (hyperthyroidism), as in Graves' disease, inflammation of the thyroid or a benign tumour.  Thyrotoxicosis can be recognised by a goitre which is a swelling of the neck due to enlargement of the thyroid gland.  Other symptoms of thyrotoxicosis include intolerance to heat, weight loss, increased appetite, increased bowel movements, irregular menstrual cycle, rapid or irregular heartbeat, palpitations, tiredness, irritability, tremor, hair loss and retraction of the eyelids resulting in a ‘staring’ appearance.

What happens if I have too little thyroxine?

Too little production of thyroxine by the thyroid gland is known as hypothyroidism.  It may be caused by autoimmune diseases, poor iodine intake or brought on by the use of certain drugs.  Sometimes, the cause is unknown.  Thyroid hormones are essential for physical and mental development so hypothyroidism during development or before birth and during childhood causes mental impairment and reduced physical growth.

Hypothyroidism in adults causes a decreased metabolic rate.  This results in symptoms which include fatigue, intolerance of cold temperatures, low heart rate, weight gain, reduced appetite, poor memory, depression, stiffness of the muscles and infertility.

 

Written: March 2011