January is Thyroid Awareness Month. It is estimated that as many as 30 million Americans may be affected by thyroid disorders, though more than half of them have not yet been diagnosed. Could you be one of them?
Things to know about the thyroid:
The thyroid is a small gland located at the base of the neck, just below the Adam’s apple area. It is shaped like a butterfly, and though small, it is vitally important to our health and overall well-being. The thyroid influences the function of our heart, brain, skin, kidneys and liver – some of our body’s most important organs.
Things to know about thyroid disorders:
Thyroid disorders tend to be hereditary.
Thyroid disorders are most common in women.
Thyroid disorders may appear as hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid). Both forms of the disorder may be accompanied by fatigue.
Thyroid cancer is one of the most rapidly growing forms of cancer in America, but also one of the most curable.
How might you know if you or someone you love has a thyroid disorder?
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists’ website gives us the following features or symptoms of thyroid disorders.
When hyperthyroidism develops, a goiter (enlargement of the thyroid) is usually present and may be associated with some or many of the following features:
- Fast heart rate, often more than 100 beats per minute
- Becoming anxious, irritable, argumentative
- Trembling hands
- Weight loss, despite eating the same amount or even more than usual
- Intolerance of warm temperatures and increased likelihood to perspire
- Loss of scalp hair
- Tendency of fingernails to separate from the nail bed
- Muscle weakness, especially of the upper arms and thighs
- Loose and frequent bowel movements
- Smooth skin
- Change in menstrual pattern
- Increased likelihood for miscarriage
- Prominent “stare” of the eyes
- Protrusion of the eyes, with or without double vision (in patients with Graves’ disease)
- Irregular heart rhythm, especially in patients older than 60 years of age
- Accelerated loss of calcium from bones, which increases the risk of osteoporosis and fractures
In its earliest stage, hypothyroidism may cause few symptoms, since the body has the ability to partially compensate for a failing thyroid gland by increasing the stimulation to it, much like pressing down on the accelerator when climbing a hill to keep the car going the same speed. As thyroid hormone production decreases and the body’s metabolism slows, a variety of features may result.
- Pervasive fatigue
- Difficulty with learning
- Dry, brittle hair and nails
- Dry, itchy skin
- Puffy face
- Sore muscles
- Weight gain and fluid retention
- Heavy and/or irregular menstrual flow
- Increased frequency of miscarriages
- Increased sensitivity to many medications
If you have any of the symptoms listed above, it could be vitally important to discuss an evaluation with your doctor. Speaking from experience, I can say that taking medication for this disorder has made a huge difference in the quality of my life.