Nearly 30 million Americans have overactive or underactive thyroid glands, but more than half remain undiagnosed. Thyroid disorders tend to run in families and are 3 to 7 times more common in women.
Your thyroid gland is more important than you might think. A small butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck, your thyroid gland makes hormones that help control the function of many of your body’s organs, including your heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and skin. Thyroid dysfunction occurs when the thyroid gland produces either:
- Too much thyroid hormone (hyperthyroidism), which causes your body’s systems to speed up
- Too little thyroid hormone (hypothyroidism), which causes your body’s systems to slow down.
In the U.S., most cases of hypothyroidism are caused by a condition called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, in which a person’s immune system attacks and destroys the thyroid. Common symptoms include fatigue, cold, depression, weight gain, constipation, hoarse voice, mood swings, heavy menses, muscle cramps, forgetfulness, dry/coarse hair, and dry/coarse skin.
Hyperthyroidism develops when the body is exposed to excessive amounts of thyroid hormone. In its mildest form, hyperthyroidism may not cause recognizable symptoms. More often, however, the symptoms are discomforting, disabling, or even life-threatening.
Making sure that your thyroid gland is healthy is important to your body’s overall well-being. If left untreated, thyroid disease can cause elevated cholesterol levels and subsequent heart disease, infertility, muscle weakness, and osteoporosis.
- Get screened. Fatigue is a common complaint for under and over active thyroid conditions. If you have symptoms of a thyroid disorder or a family history, talk to your doctor about a simple blood test called a thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH).
- Take medication as directed. If you are diagnosed with thyroid disease, be sure to take your thyroid medicine every day, as instructed by your doctor, and refill your prescription on time so that you don’t miss any doses.
- Regular check ups. To keep your thyroid in balance, you need to know your numbers. Regular check ups and TSH screening are keys to successfully managing a malfunctioning thyroid gland.
Thyroid Cancer is one of the fastest growing cancers in America and one of the most curable. Many people, especially in the early stages of thyroid cancer, do not experience symptoms. As the cancer develops, symptoms can include a lump or nodule in the front of the neck, hoarseness or difficulty speaking, swollen lymph nodes, a pain in the throat or neck, and difficulty swallowing or breathing.
Sources: American Thyroid Association, American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists, National Cancer Institute, American Cancer Society, LifeWork Strategies EAP, and Washington and Adventist HealthCare Shady Grove Medical Centers. For additional information, consult your physician.