For a small butterfly–shaped gland, it has a lot of power. The thyroid, located at the front of your neck, controls the rate at which every part of the body works. It produces a hormone that influences every cell, tissue and organ in the body.
January marks Thyroid Awareness Month and with it an opportunity to talk about thyroid disease.
According to the American Thyroid Association:
- More than 12 percent of the U.S. population will develop a thyroid condition during their lifetime
- An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease
- Up to 60 percent of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition
It is common for people to believe their symptoms of fatigue, irritability or sleep problems are due to life’s stresses. However, over the long-term such symptoms lead to far worse conditions of osteoporosis to cardiovascular disease and cancer.
The thyroid regulates the body’s metabolism—the rate at which the body produces energy from nutrients and oxygen—and affects critical body functions, such as energy level and heart rate.
Hypothyroidism occurs when your body isn’t producing enough hormones. Symptoms include extreme fatigue, depression, forgetfulness and some weight gain.
If you are producing too much thyroid hormones, you have hyperthyroidism. Symptoms can include irritability, nervousness, muscle weakness, unexplained weight loss, sleep disturbances,vision problems and eye irritation.
Most thyroid diseases are life-long conditions that can be managed with medical help. However, some people with thyroid dysfunction have no symptoms while others can experience dramatic symptoms.
Rush University Medical Center suggests the following checklist for what to watch for:
1. Changes in energy level and mood
Anxiety, restlessness, irritability and insomnia can signal hyperthyroidism, while depression, fatigue, low energy and sleepiness could be signs of hypothyroidism.
2. Temperature tolerance issues
People who are hyperthyroid often have trouble tolerating heat, while those who are hypothyroid might feel cold no matter how many layers they put on.
3. Weight fluctuation
Hyperthyroidism may cause unexplained weight loss and hypothyroidism can cause weight gain — even though your calorie consumption and activity levels haven’t changed.
4. Changes in bowel habits
More frequent or loose stools might be a sign of hyperthyroidism; constipation can mean hypothyroidism.
5. Menstrual irregularities
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause irregular menstrual cycles by affecting their frequency and flow.
The Centers for Disease Control indicate that checking for thyroid disease is similar to other kinds of medical evaluations—your doctor will evaluate your medical history; examine the thyroid by feeling the gland and order more diagnostic tests if needed.
Testing for thyroid function can be completed with a simple blood test.