The thyroid is an important but often overlooked part of the body. Located on the front of the neck, this butterfly-shaped gland regulates blood pressure, body temperature, heart rate and weight.
When you have a health issue with your thyroid, your whole body can start to feel out of whack. An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, and as many as 60 percent are unaware that they have this condition. Additionally, women are up to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems.
The most common thyroid health issues are Hyperthyroidism, Hypothyroidism, Thyroid Cancer and Thyroid Nodules. It’s important to understand these conditions and be able to recognize if you are experiencing symptoms that may need to be addressed with your healthcare provider.
This condition occurs when the thyroid is overactive and produces too much of the hormone thyroxine, which accelerates your body’s metabolism. This can cause unintentional weight loss, rapid or irregular heartbeat, anxiety, fatigue and trouble sleeping. An immune system disorder called Graves’ disease is the most common cause of hyperthyroidism. Fortunately, multiple and effective treatments are available, including medication, beta blockers and surgery.
With hypothyroidism the thyroid is underactive, causing your body’s metabolism to slow down. As a result, you may experience weight gain, muscle weakness, fatigue, joint pain and depression. The most common cause of an underactive thyroid is Hashimoto’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. Treatment is an oral medication called synthetic thyroid hormone levothyroxine.
The most rapidly increasing cancer in the U.S. is thyroid cancer. This may be because today’s imaging techniques are able to detect smaller lesions at an earlier stage. Women account for about 75 percent of thyroid cancer patients. Symptoms of thyroid cancer can include a lump on your neck, difficulty swallowing, swollen lymph nodes and changes in your voice. Treatment for thyroid cancer depends on the size, type and stage of the tumor.
Thyroid nodules are solid or fluid-filled lumps that form within your thyroid. These nodules are very common. In fact, it’s estimated that half of all Americans will have one by the time they are 60 years old. Most thyroid nodules do not produce any symptoms, but they can become large enough for you to see or feel. Fortunately, only about five to 10 percent of thyroid nodules are cancerous. Most patients take a wait and see approach by carefully monitoring the nodule’s growth. Surgery may be an option for larger nodules, especially if they are pressing on the windpipe or esophagus and causing shortness of breath or difficulty swallowing.
If you are experiencing symptoms that you believe could be related to your thyroid, we encourage you to talk to your healthcare provider about your concerns. Your provider may order certain tests to find out if there is an issue. If needed, your provider can also help you to determine next steps.
Sources: Mayo Clinic, Johns Hopkins University