January is National Thyroid Awareness Month. Hancock Regional Hospital understands how important it is to bring awareness to this sometimes confusing organ and the chronic effects an unhealthy one can have on the body.
Thyroid disorders can be tricky, as Hancock Regional Hospital’s Medical Director of Endocrinology Dr. Kerri Kissel explains. “Thyroid-related symptoms can occur from head to toe and can differ based on age, sex, ethnicity, and other factors.” Symptoms, too, can range from mild to severe. “I encourage conversation with your physician or healthcare provider,” says Kissel.
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped organ found in the neck, just below the Adam’s apple. It makes up part of the endocrine system, which regulates certain hormones throughout the body. Specifically, it uses iodine from food to produce triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). When this small but powerful organ is overactive or underactive, a multitude of diseases and sometime debilitating symptoms can result. The two most common disorders of the thyroid are hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism.
Hypothyroidism is what happens when the thyroid produces too little T3 and T4. Symptoms include fatigue, dry skin, sensitivity to cold, memory problems, constipation, depression, weight gain, weakness and slow heart rate. Hormone pills are usually prescribed to treat hypothyroidism.
If you, like 14 million other Americans, suffer from Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, an extreme hypothyroid condition that causes the immune system to attack the thyroid and impairs its functioning, you may need hormone replacement therapy or even surgery in more advanced cases. Hashimoto’s can exhibit the same symptoms as hypothyroidism but kicks it up a bit with extras like dry or thinning hair, puffy face, heavy or irregular menstruation, and even an enlarged thyroid, or goiter. A goiter can take on a few symptoms of its own, as it may interfere with the body’s ability to swallow and breathe. Most of the time, goiters can be easily managed and are usually not cancerous.
If we swing to the other end of the thyroid pendulum, we hit hyperthyroidism, in which the thyroid produces too much T3 and T4. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism in the United States is Grave’s disease. Grave’s disease is an inherited auto-immune condition most commonly found in women ages 20-30 years. As your body attacks your thyroid, you may experience anxiety, irritability, fatigue, hand tremors, irregular heartbeat, excessive sweating, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea, an altered menstrual cycle, goiter or bulging eyes and vision problems. Symptoms are treated using medications.
Although thyroid disease is not (yet?) preventable or curable, some patients are relying more on alternative therapies such as diet changes, herbs and other supplements to either lessen symptoms or protect their thyroid. If you think you may be at risk of thyroid disease or if you experience any of these symptoms, contact your physician for a consultation. In general, blood tests may be ordered to test for certain levels of various thyroid hormones. According to Kissell, “Tests, as they pertain to thyroid concerns — both biochemical and radiological — are employed as part of a diagnostic algorithm utilized by physicians and other healthcare providers.” Medications are available as well as alternative therapies to help with symptoms and treatment.
For further inquiries, the American Thyroid Association has an excellent website dedicated to providing information to patients and family members as well as the general public. We wish you the best of luck on your health journey!