Posted on January 09, 2018
January is Thyroid Awareness Month
According to the American College of Endocrinology (ACE), nearly 30 million Americans have thyroid disorders, yet more than half remain undiagnosed and untreated. Thyroid disease is far more common than diabetes, heart disease, and breast cancer and, in fact, more Americans suffer from thyroid disease than all types of cancers combined.
The thyroid gland, a small gland shaped like a butterfly found on the lower part of the neck, is often called the body’s engine. It’s miniscule in size, but the gland plays a vital role producing thyroid hormone which affects the function of the brain, heart, liver, skin, and kidneys. Physical problems only appear when hormone production is too high or too low.
When outside influences such as disease, damage to the thyroid, or certain medicines break down communication, your thyroid might not produce enough hormone. This would slow down all of your body’s functions, a condition known as hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid. Your thyroid could also produce too much hormone sending your systems into overdrive, a condition known as hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid. These two conditions are most often features of an underlying thyroid disease.
When considering thyroid disease, doctors ask two main questions: First, is the thyroid gland inappropriately producing an abnormal amount of thyroid hormone? And second, is there a structural change in the thyroid, such as a lump (known as a nodule) or an enlargement (known as a goiter)? Though one of these characteristics does not necessarily imply that the other is present, many thyroid disorders display both.
When to See a Doctor
Make an appointment with your doctor if you have any symptoms of a thyroid problem. Some symptoms of thyroid problems are obvious: If your neck looks enlarged or you notice a lump, bump, or lesion on your neck, you may have a benign condition, or, much less likely, thyroid cancer. See your doctor right away.
If you notice your eyes are bulging or feeling or looking inflamed, see your doctor; bulging eyes can be a sign of Graves’ disease, an autoimmune condition that causes your thyroid gland to become overactive.
Some symptoms of thyroid problems are subtle and easily confused with other health conditions. You should see your doctor if you have the following symptoms of an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism), especially if symptoms are persistent:
- Feeling hot;
- Excessive sweating;
- Feeling nervous or jittery;
- Increased bowel movements;
- Rapid heart rate;
- Weight loss;
- Difficulty concentrating; or
- Irregular or scant menstrual flow (in women).
You should also see your doctor if you have the following symptoms of an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism), especially if symptoms are persistent:
- Weight gain;
- Mental fogginess or forgetfulness;
- Feeling cold;
- Dry skin;
- Fluid retention;
- Vague aches and pains;
- Joint or muscle stiffness;
- Excessive menstrual bleeding (in women); or
Only a doctor can perform a physical exam and order blood tests to help determine the cause of your symptoms and if you’re experiencing a problem with your thyroid gland.
The bottom line: If your thyroid gland isn’t working properly, neither are you.
The treatment of thyroid disease depends on many factors says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including the type and severity of the thyroid disorder and the age and overall health of the patient. Treatment is specific to each individual.
Untreated thyroid disease may lead to elevated cholesterol levels and subsequent heart disease, as well as infertility and osteoporosis. Research also shows there’s a strong genetic link between thyroid disease and other autoimmune diseases, including types of diabetes, arthritis, and anemia.
- Thyroid cancer is initially treated with thyroid surgery. Many patients also receive further treatment with iodine-131. Patients treated for thyroid cancer require lifelong thyroid hormone replacement.
- The majority of benign nodules do not require treatment. Patients with benign nodules are usually advised to have periodic follow-up examinations.
- Hypothyroidism usually requires only replacement of thyroid hormone by taking a single daily tablet at a dose adjusted to produce normal thyroid hormone levels.
- Autoimmune thyroiditis is a disorder that may cause hypothyroidism. It usually does not cause symptoms that require treatment unless hypothyroidism develops. In such cases, thyroid hormone replacement is required.
- Treatment of hyperthyroidism may include anti-thyroid drugs, radioactive iodine-131 or in rare cases, thyroid surgery.
If you’ve been diagnosed with a thyroid issue, it’s important to remember that treatment is a life-long commitment and medication must be taken every day—even when symptoms are under control. This may seem a bit daunting, but, by taking control of your condition and complying with your medication, you should be able to remain symptom free. Of course, see your doctor more frequently if any changes in your condition occur.
If you have questions about any healthcare issue, contact the primary care providers at Coastal Carolina Health Care by calling (252) 633-4111 or visiting www.cchchealthcare.com.
(Sources: American College of Endocrinology; American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists; ThyroidAwareness.com; National Academy of Hypothyroidism; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and George R. Tershakovec, M.D., Baptist Health South Florida.)