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January is National Thyroid Awareness Month

If Your Thyroid Isn’t Working Properly, Neither are You

You might be surprised to learn thyroid disease is more common than diabetes or heart disease. The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) says thyroid disease is a fact of life for as many as 30 million Americans—more than half of those people remain undiagnosed. Women are five times more likely than men to suffer from hypothyroidism (when the gland is not producing enough thyroid hormone). Aging is just one risk factor for hypothyroidism.

The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. Although relatively small, the thyroid gland influences the function of many of the body’s most important organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and skin.

The gland produces thyroid hormone, which controls virtually every cell, tissue, and organ in the body. If your thyroid is not functioning properly, it can produce too much thyroid hormone, which causes the body’s systems to speed up (hyperthyroidism); or it can create too little thyroid hormone, which causes the body’s systems to slow down (hypothyroidism).

Untreated thyroid disease may lead to elevated cholesterol levels and subsequent heart disease, as well as infertility and osteoporosis. Research also shows that there is a strong genetic link between thyroid disease and other autoimmune diseases, including types of diabetes, arthritis, and anemia.

Recognizing a Thyroid Problem

First, you must understand how to recognize the symptoms and risk factors of thyroid disease. Since many symptoms may be hidden or mimic other diseases and conditions, the best way to know for sure is to ask your doctor for a thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test, a simple blood test to verify your thyroid gland’s condition. Also, take a minute and perform a “neck check.” And because thyroid disease often runs in families, examinations of your family members and a review of their medical histories may reveal other individuals with thyroid problems.

Symptoms of too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism):

  • Depression or feeling blue
  • Trouble concentrating
  • Tiredness
  • Dry skin and hair
  • Weight gain
  • Feeling cold all the time

Symptoms of too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism):

  • Nervousness and anxiety
  • Weight loss
  • Tremor (shaking)
  • Fast, irregular pulse
  • Tiredness
  • Feeling hot all the time

When to Consider a Thyroid Evaluation

  • Family history: A familiar place to look for thyroid disorder signs and symptoms is your family tree. If you have a first-degree relative (a parent, sibling, or child) with thyroid disease, you would benefit from thyroid evaluation. Women are much more likely to be thyroid patients than men; however, the gene pool runs through both.
  • Prescription medications: If you’re taking Lithium or Amiodarone you should consider a thyroid evaluation.
  • Radiation therapy to the head or neck: If you’ve had any of the following radiation therapies, you should consider a thyroid evaluation: Radiation therapy for tonsils, an enlarged thymus, or acne.

How to Perform a “Neck Check”

  • Use a mirror and focus on the lower middle area of your neck, above the collarbones, and below the Adam’s apple (larynx). Your thyroid gland is located in this area of your neck.
  • While focusing on this area in the mirror, tip your head back.
  • Take a drink of water and swallow.
  • As you swallow, look at your neck. Check for any bulges or protrusions in this area when you swallow. Reminder: Don’t confuse the Adam’s apple with the thyroid gland. The thyroid gland is located further down on your neck, closer to the collarbone. You may want to repeat this process several times.
  • If you do see any bulges or protrusions in this area, see your physician. You may have an enlarged thyroid gland or a thyroid nodule and should be checked to determine whether cancer is present or if treatment for thyroid disease is needed.

Treatment

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.

  • 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 Association of Clinical Endocrinologists; American College of Endocrinology; Mount Sinai Health System; Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; and Thyroid Federation International.)