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Saturday, January 3, 2015

Thyroid Health Awareness Month

This month is thyroid health awareness month. As someone who is hypothyroid and takes thyroid hormone supplements, this month is very important - not only for people who are hyper or hypo (over active or under active), but for everyone. This month is to bring awareness to people to get tested if they experience any symptoms of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism.

Why is the Thyroid Important?
The thyroid is a butterfly shaped gland that is located in the neck region. Sitting below the Adam's Apple and along the windpipe, the thyroid gland has two lobes and it's normal size - if the thyroid is healthy, a person normally can't feel it or see it. The thyroid controls all hormonal processes the body goes through. According to Web M.D., "The thyroid secretes several hormones, collectively called thyroid hormones. The main hormone is thyroxine, also called T4. Thyroid hormones act throughout the body, influencing metabolism, growth and development, and body temperature. During infancy and childhood, adequate thyroid hormone is crucial for brain development. "

Thyroid Diseases
What kind of thyroid diseases are there? There are two autoimmune thyroid disease, a goiter, and thyroiditis. How is possible that there are two autoimmune diseases? Shouldn't there be only one since we only have one thyroid? There are two because one causes hyperthyroidism only, the other one switches back and forth between hyper and hypo before your thyroid dies and stays hypo. You can only have one autoimmune disease with the thyroid: Grave's Disease or Hashimoto's Thyroiditis. Grave's Disease causes hyperthyroidism and special medication has to be taken to slow down the thyroid. If medication doesn't work, the thyroid is removed. Hashimoto's Thyroiditis fluctuates between hyper, hypo, and somewhat normal until antibodies kill the thyroid and the person because just hypothyroid. Medications such as Synthroid (generic: Levothyroxine) or porcine thyroid (only available overseas) are taken.

Here are the classifications from Web M.D.,
  • Goiter: A general term for thyroid swelling. Goiters can be harmless, or can represent iodine deficiency or a condition associated with thyroid inflammation called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis.
  • Thyroiditis: Inflammation of the thyroid, usually from a viral infection or autoimmune condition. Thyroiditis can be painful, or have no symptoms at all.
  • Hyperthyroidism: Excessive thyroid hormone production. Hyperthyroidism is most often caused by Graves disease or an overactive thyroid nodule.
  • Hypothyroidism: Low production of thyroid hormone. Thyroid damage caused by autoimmune disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism .
  • Graves disease: An autoimmune condition in which the thyroid is overstimulated, causing hyperthyroidism.
  • Thyroid cancer: An uncommon form of cancer, thyroid cancer is usually curable. Surgery, radiation, and hormone treatments may be used to treat thyroid cancer.
  • Thyroid nodule: A small abnormal mass or lump in the thyroid gland. Thyroid nodules are extremely common. Few are cancerous. They may secrete excess hormones, causing hyperthyroidism, or cause no problems. 
  • Thyroid storm: A rare form of hyperthyroidism in which extremely high thyroid hormone levels cause severe illness.

And here is a write up about Hashimoto's from the Mayo Clinic (
"Hashimoto's disease is a condition in which your immune system attacks your thyroid, a small gland at the base of your neck below your Adam's apple. The thyroid gland is part of your endocrine system, which produces hormones that coordinate many of your body's activities.
The resulting inflammation from Hashimoto's disease, also known as chronic lymphocytic thyroiditis, often leads to an underactive thyroid gland (hypothyroidism). Hashimoto's disease is the most common cause of hypothyroidism in the United States. It primarily affects middle-aged women but also can occur in men and women of any age and in children."

Who Gets Thyroid Disease?
Thyroid disease mostly effects women, but men can have thyroid symptoms too. Doctors generally don't check men because men don't have the same hormones as women - hormonal differences are usually what effects women. However, if thyroid conditions run in the family, one should be tested. Post-partum women should be checked as well because pregnancy changes thyroid health and sometimes a woman can become hypothyroid after the birth of a child. Also, bipolar people taking Lithium (and I suggest anyone taking psychiatric medications get their thyroids checked because that medication can change thyroid hormone in some people) need to get tested since Lithium can cause goiter.

What are the signs of hyperthyroidism or hypothyroidism?

Difficulty concentrating
Goiter or enlarged nodules
Heat intolerance
Increased appetite
Increased sweating
Irregular periods in women
Sleep problems
Weight loss (or gain in some cases)

Intolerance to the cold
Paleness or dry skin
Weight gain
thin hair or brittle nails

If someone is concerned about their thyroid health, they can talk to the doctor and the doctor will order a blood test and feel around the neck for a goiter. Once the blood test gauges thyroid hormone levels and if treatment is needed, the doctor will work with the patient on thyroid health optimization.

If you're interested in learning more about thyroid health, please check out American Thyroid Organization or European Thyroid Association or British Thyroid Organization. And please remember, yearly physicals are important for everyone!

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