We all experience annoying symptoms from time to time. Fatigue, anxiety, hair loss, and weight gain are symptoms we might chalk up to stress, diet, lack of sleep, or aging. Often, many of these issues can be resolved by eating a healthy, whole food diet, exercising more, reducing stress, and getting enough sleep. But when symptoms persist, you may want to visit your primary care physician and get your thyroid levels checked.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, and about 20 million Americans have some form of a thyroid condition, and statistics show women are much more likely than men to have thyroid problems. Hyperthyroidism affects two in 100 women and two in 1,000 men. The thyroid is the butterfly-shaped gland in the base of the neck that makes the hormone T4. When T4 enters the bloodstream it converts to T3, the most active form of thyroid hormone. Having sufficient levels of these hormones helps regulate body temperature, metabolism, blood pressure, and heart rate.
When thyroid issues are left untreated, patients can suffer cardiovascular problems, nerve injury, infertility, and in severe cases, death. Pregnant women with undiagnosed hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children.
The thyroid can become underactive, overactive, infected, or cancerous. Here is a rundown of the most common issues:
Someone who has an overactive thyroid may notice symptoms:
• Rapid heartbeat
• Hand and finger tremors
After diagnosis, an overactive thyroid can be treated with medication. Graves disease is a type of hyperthyroidism. It's an autoimmune, genetic condition that can cause the tissue and muscle behind the eyes to swell. While graves is a lifelong condition, it is treatable. Some treatment options include medication, radioactive iodine, and, in some cases, surgery.
Another common problem facing many Americans is an underactive thyroid. Some of the common symptoms associated with hypothyroidism include:
• Memory loss
• Cold intolerance
• Dry skin
• Fertility problems
• Hair loss
• Weight gain
Your doctor will likely start by testing the thyroid hormone levels in your blood. Once a doctor diagnoses a patient with an underactive thyroid, they may prescribe a hormone replacement, which can reverse the effects of hypothyroidism.
Thyroid cancer occurs when the cells grow uncontrollably, forming a nodule or tumor. About 62,500 people are diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the United States each year. The disease usually affects people between the ages of 20 and 55. Women are nearly three times more likely to develop thyroid cancer. Many patients have no symptoms, but some experience a lump in the neck, voice changes, and painful swallowing. Fortunately, about 90% of thyroid nodules are benign. Regular neck checks are an essential part of your wellness routine. If you find a lump or experience any of the symptoms described above, schedule an appointment with your primary care to get it checked out. For details, visit hyroid.org/january-thyroid-awareness/.
• Robert Swayze is a Family Medicine Specialist at Heartland Regional Medical Group in Marion.