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Thyroid Awareness Month: Learn About Your Thyroid
Thyroid disorders are very common, and it is estimated that 1 in 10 people have one.1 More than half of the people living with a thyroid disorder are undiagnosed, which is why spreading awareness about thyroid health is important.
January is National Thyroid Awareness Month. Here is what you need to know about your thyroid, the different thyroid disorders, and their symptoms.
What is Your Thyroid?
The thyroid is a small, 2-inch gland that is shaped like a butterfly. It is located in front of the windpipe, right above the collarbone.
The thyroid is part of the endocrine system, which makes chemicals called hormones.2 Your thyroid is in charge of creating and producing different hormones that play many different roles throughout your body.3
Many of these hormones created by the thyroid tell your body’s cells how much energy to use.3 As these hormones are used, the thyroid creates more.
Your thyroid also controls your metabolism, the chemical process that breaks down what you eat to make energy. The thyroid does this by controlling certain hormones, including T4 and T3.
Role of the Pituitary Gland
The pituitary gland is part of the endocrine system and helps the body as it grows and develops. This gland controls many hormones that help the body with the reproductive system as well as many organs in the body.
The pituitary gland is located in the skull below the brain and helps to oversee thyroid function.3 If this gland senses a lack or excess of the thyroid’s hormones in the bloodstream, it creates thyroid stimulating hormone (TSH). The TSH is sent to the thyroid to try to get the body functioning back to normal.
The thyroid’s hormones control how the body uses its energy, ultimately affecting almost every organ in the body.
Graves’ disease is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system mistakenly attacks the thyroid. This can cause the thyroid to overproduce its hormones.
Graves’ disease affects about 1 in 200 people in the United States.5 Graves’ disease is hereditary and more common between the ages of 30 and 50. The disease has also been found to affect more women than men.
Some symptoms of Graves’ disease are similar to symptoms of hyperthyroidism, including:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Frequent bowel movements
- Trouble sleeping
- Weight loss6
Individuals with other autoimmune disorders may be more at risk for developing Graves’ disease. Some of the conditions that have been linked to Graves’ disease include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Celiac disease
- Type 1 diabetes
- Addison’s disease
Graves’ disease can be diagnosed by a doctor with a blood test or a thyroid scan.
Some of the symptoms of hyperthyroidism include:
- Rapid heartbeat
- Weight loss
- Thin skin and nails
- Brittle hair
- Muscle weakness4
Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. You’re more at risk for hyperthyroidism if you have a family history of it and you’re a female.
To be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism, your doctor will do a physical examination, ask about family health history, and order a blood test. Blood tests will measure the level of thyroid hormones, and if T4 and T3 are at a high level, you may have hyperthyroidism.8 Doctors can also use an iodine uptake scan, which measures thyroid function, or a thyroid scan, which uses gamma rays to take a picture of the thyroid.
Without treatment, hyperthyroidism can lead to more serious health concerns such as heart problems, brittle bones, eye problems, and swelling on the skin.
Hypothyroidism is when the thyroid is underactive and does not produce enough of its hormones.4 Hypothyroidism is the exact opposite of hyperthyroidism.
Some of the symptoms of hypothyroidism include:
- Weight gain
- Dry, thinning hair
- Slow heart rate
- Memory problems
Hashimoto’s disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism. Other causes may be inflammation of the thyroid, radiation treatment of the thyroid, and certain medications.
- Being a female
- Being older than 60
- Having a family history of thyroid disease
- Having radiation to the neck or thyroid
- Having type 1 diabetes, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis
When left untreated, hypothyroidism can cause dangerous health issues such as high cholesterol or myxedema coma, which is when the body’s functions slow down.9
To be diagnosed with hypothyroidism, a doctor may ask about a patient’s medical history and family history. A doctor may then perform a physical exam, as well as utilize thyroid tests such as an antibody blood test, TSH, T3, and T4.
The treatment goal for hypothyroidism is simple – replace the hormones that your thyroid is not producing. To do so, doctors will prescribe medicine and regularly check your thyroid hormone levels to adjust if needed.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disorder where the immune system makes antibodies that attack the thyroid. This leaves the thyroid damaged and unable to make enough hormones.
When the disease progresses, individuals will notice symptoms of hypothyroidism including:
- Weight gain
- Thinning hair
- Slowed heart rate11
The exact cause of Hashimoto’s is unknown, but genes have been found to play a role in various cases. Viruses such as hepatitis C have also been known to cause it. Blood tests can determine if someone has Hashimoto’s disease.
A goiter occurs when the thyroid gland becomes enlarged. This is noncancerous.
- Simple goiter. These goiters develop when the thyroid does not make enough hormones. The thyroid grows larger to make up for this.
- Endemic goiter. This type occurs when people do not have enough iodine in their diet.
- Sporadic goiter. These goiters do not have a known cause.
A goiter does not always have symptoms, but here are some possible ones:
- Swelling in the neck
- Difficulty breathing
- Difficulty swallowing
- Hoarseness of voice13
Goiters can be determined by a physical exam, hormone test, antibody test, a CT scan, and a thyroid scan.
Nodules are growths on the thyroid that are either solid or filled with fluid. Nodules on the thyroid are very common, with experts estimating about half of Americans will develop one by the time they’re 60.14
- Difficulty swallowing
- Increased appetite
- Weight loss
- High pulse rate
More than 95% of nodules on the thyroid are noncancerous. If there are any concerns about the nodule, your doctor may recommend removing part of the thyroid or the whole gland.
Thyroid cancer is rare, however, it is the most common endocrine cancer in children.4 Luckily, thyroid cancer is one of the most treatable types of cancer.14 The gland can be removed and spreading of the cancer is rare.
Symptoms of thyroid cancer include:
- A lump in the neck
- Swollen glands
- Tightness in the neck
- Trouble breathing
- Trouble swallowing
- Hoarse voice
Most thyroid disorders are treated the same. There are three different treatment options for thyroid disorders:
- Medicine. Your doctor may suggest medicine that treats hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism. These medicines will either slow the production of hormones or restore hormones, depending on your diagnosis.
- Radioiodine therapy. This is the most common form of treatment for those with Graves’ disease or thyroid cancer. Patients consume iodine in pill or liquid form to destroy the cells that produce the thyroid hormones.
- Thyroid surgery. This form of treatment is rare and typically only suggested if there are large goiters, nodules, cancer, or if someone is allergic to the medicines that are used for thyroid treatment.16
Spread Awareness about Thyroid Health
Saber Healthcare encourages you to learn more about your thyroid health and your risk of any thyroid disorders.
Spreading awareness about thyroid health can help people become more aware about thyroid disorders. With more awareness, people will be better prepared to seek diagnosis and treatment, which can help prevent more serious health issues.
To learn more about Saber Healthcare and the services we provide, click here.
Saber Healthcare is an organization dedicated to providing consultant services to long term care providers. This article is for informational purposes and is not meant to be seen as professional advice. Please consult with a medical expert before relying on the information provided.
- “National Thyroid Awareness Month: All About Thyroid Disease.” The Surgical Clinic, thesurgicalclinics.com. Accessed December 20th, 2021. https://thesurgicalclinics.com/national-thyroid-awareness-month/.
- Khatri, Minesh. “What Does Your Thyroid Do?” WebMD, webmd.com. May 16th, 2021. Accessed December 20th, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/what-does-thyroid-do.
- “Thyroid Disease.” Cleveland Clinic, clevelandclinic.org. April 19th, 2020. Accessed December 20th, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/8541-thyroid-disease.
- Wallace, Ryan. “6 Common Thyroid Disorders & Problems.” Healthline Media, healthline.com. August 30th, 2018. Accessed December 20th, 2021. https://www.healthline.com/health/common-thyroid-disorders.
- “Graves’ Disease.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed December 21st, 2021. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/graves-disease.
- “Graves’ Disease.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. December 5th, 2020. Accessed December 29th, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/graves-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20356240.
- “Hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. November 14th, 2020. Accessed December 20th, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hyperthyroidism/symptoms-causes/syc-20373659.
- “Hyperthyroidism Diagnoses.” The Regents of The University of California, UCSF Health. Accessed December 21st, 2021. https://www.ucsfhealth.org/conditions/hyperthyroidism/diagnosis.
- “Hypothyroidism.” National Library of Medicine, Medline Plus. Accessed December 20th, 2021. https://medlineplus.gov/hypothyroidism.html.
- “Hashimoto’s Disease.” U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases. Accessed December 21st, 2021. https://www.niddk.nih.gov/health-information/endocrine-diseases/hashimotos-disease.
- “Hashimoto’s Disease.” Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research, Mayo Clinic. February 11th, 2020. Accessed December 28th, 2021. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/hashimotos-disease/symptoms-causes/syc-20351855#:~:text=Hashimoto's%20disease%20is%20a%20condition,many%20of%20your%20body's%20functions.
- “Goiter.” Cleveland Clinic, clevelandclinic.org. Accessed December 21st, 2021. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/diseases/12625-goiter.
- Nazario, Brunilda. “Goiter.” WebMD, webmd.com. September 22nd, 2021. Accessed December 28th, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/women/understanding-goiter-basics.
- “Thyroid Nodules: When to Worry.” The Johns Hopkins University, The Johns Hopkins Hospital, and Johns Hopkins Health System, hopkinsmedicine.org. Accessed December 21st, 2021. https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/thyroid-nodules-when-to-worry.
- “Thyroid Nodules.” American Thyroid Association, thyroid.org. Accessed December 28th, 2021. https://www.thyroid.org/thyroid-nodules/.
- Dansinger, Michael. “Diagnoses and Treatment of Thyroid Problems.” WebMD, webmd.com. July 18th, 2020. Accessed December 21st, 2021. https://www.webmd.com/women/understanding-thyroid-problems-treatment.