Approximately 30 million Americans have some sort of thyroid gland disturbance, and more than half of those people are unaware that anything is wrong. Why is this so important? The thyroid, a small, butterfly-shaped gland in the lower neck, produces hormones that affect nearly every cell in the body and play a large role in metabolism.
Thyroid disease is more common than heart disease and diabetes, so why do we rarely here about it? The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists is out to change that this month, marking January as Thyroid Awareness Month. To learn more, we spoke with Jeffrey Garber, M.D., President-elect for the American College of Endocrinology and associate professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School, and Dr. R. Mack Harrell, M.D., secretary for the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists and physician at Memorial Integrative Endocrine Surgery in Hollywood, Florida. Did you know?
- Six percent of miscarriages are linked to thyroid issues during pregnancy. Since the thyroid hormone crosses the placenta to help with the growth of the fetus, you'll need 50 percent more iodine then when you're not expecting. Speak with your doctor about finding a prenatal vitamin with the proper balance of vitamins and minerals.
- While about five percent of the general population is at-risk, 15 to 20 percent of those with diabetes are likely to develop thyroid disease.
- Women are more likely to be affected than men.
- If thyroid disease goes untreated, it may lead to elevated cholesterol, heart disease, infertility or osteoporosis.
- If you're active on a regular basis, you can use your performance and recovery as a barometer for your internal health. If you feel weaker, can't reach your typical speeds or are more sore or longer than usual, it may be a sign that an organ system is malfunctioning due to a thyroid issue. Time to check in with your M.D.!
- Thyroid disease is genetic, so ask tell your doctor about any related issues in your family tree and ask if a TSH (thyroid-stimulating hormone) test is a good idea.
- You should be performing a neck check, like a breast self-exam, on a regular basis to keep tabs on your thyroid health. Click here to find out how to do it.
Click below for more details about the different types of thyroid disease.
There are three types of thyroid abnormalities: growths (which may or may not be cancerous), underperformance (hypothyroidism) and overperformance (hyperthyroidism). You or your doctor can generally feel the nodules or lumps, but hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism symptoms can be a bit tricky, since fatigue and appetite changes are involved with both. Here's a primer on other things to watch out for:
- Hyper: Weight loss
- Hypo: Weight gain
- Hyper: Frequent bowel movements
- Hypo: Constipation
- Hyper: Sleep and mental disturbances
- Hypo: Forgetfulness and depression
If you experience several of these, schedule an appointment to discuss your symptoms with your doctor and possibly get a TSH test. Kimberly Dorris, a 44-year-old from Scottsdale, Arizona, told us about her experience with Graves' disease (the most common form of hyperthyroidism, which actress Faith Ford also suffers from). Check back tomorrow to hear about how she has found how to maintain her favorite fit activities, like tennis, while managing her symptoms. Photo courtesy of Shutterstock