The thymus gland is located at the back of your sternum and between your lungs. The gland is active until a child hits puberty. Though it does not function throughout a lifetime, when it’s active, it helps the body shield itself from autoimmunity (a condition where immune system turns against itself). Hence, the thymus gland is ever more important to the lymphatic and endocrine system.
Prior to birth and throughout childhood, the thymus gland is elemental in the production and secretion of T cells or T-lymphocytes- a particular kind of white blood cell that shields body from virus attack, infections and various threats. The gland produces thymosin hormone which is crucial for the development of T cells.
Unlike most organs, the thymus gland is the largest in children. Once you hit puberty, the gland slowly starts to fade and eventually replaced by fat. By old age, it is nothing more than a fatty tissue. Thankfully, the gland produces all the T-cells by the time you reach puberty.
The Hormone of the Thymus: Thymosin
The thymus gland is responsible for making the thymosin hormone which prompts the development of T cells. Right through childhood, white blood cells
pass through the thymus, where they are converted into T cells.
Once T-cells have matures, they move to the lymph nodes where they help the immune system in fighting various diseases.
Diseases associated with the thymus gland
Some lymphocytes, regardless of where they are located in the lymph nodes or thymus, can take the shape of cancer. Some of the disorders linked to thymus gland are:
- Hodgkin disease: It’s a kind of lymphoma, which is a cancer of the lymph system (part of the immune system). Initial look of Hodgkin disease is an enlarged lymph node. The disease can spread to nearby lymph nodes, bone marrow, liver or lungs. Symptoms include night sweats, fever & chills, weight loss, loss of appetite, painless inflammation of the lymph nodes etc.
- Non-Hodgkin lymphoma: It’s a cancer of the lymphatic system where tumors develop from lymphocytes (a white blood cell). There are different kinds of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma more common of them are large B-cell lymphoma and follicular lymphoma. Hodgkin lymphoma is not as prevalent as Non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. Symptoms include weight loss, swollen nymph nodes, shortness of breath if cancer affects the lymph nodes in the chest, concentration problems, headache, frequent itching, night sweat, abdominal discomfort or swelling etc.
- DiGeorge's syndrome: It is a rare health condition caused due to immune deficiency. Symptoms include recurrent infections, underdeveloped thymus gland, lack of T-cells, congenital heart disease and more.
The thymus gland is active till puberty but its double role of being an endocrine and lymphatic gland is significant for your long-term health.