The number of patients with thyroid conditions that come to our office (and are unaware of their condition) is overwhelming! Thyroid disease is epidemic!
According to the American Thyroid Association, an estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease. Up to 60 percent of these individuals are aware of their health condition. This is critical information because thyroid disease puts patients at risk for certain serious conditions such as cardiovascular disease, osteoporosis, and infertility. Pregnant women with undiagnosed or inadequately treated hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, preterm delivery, and severe developmental problems in their children. Women are at significantly higher risk than men for developing thyroid problems and one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder in her lifetime. Autoimmune (the body attacks itself) thyroid disease is the number one autoimmune condition in the United States.
The thyroid gland is a small, butterfly-shaped gland located in the base of the neck just below the Adam’s apple. While the gland is relatively small, its impact on our health is huge! Every cell in the body has a receptor for thyroid hormone therefore it has great influence on the function of many of the body’s most important organs, including the heart, liver, kidneys, brain, and skin. Your thyroid is like the ‘powerhouse generator’ of your body and is responsible for regulating your metabolism. There are different forms of thyroid hormone and T3 is the one used the most by the organs and tissues. Your brain (hypothalamus and to your pituitary) tells your thyroid (through thyroid stimulating hormone, TSH) to make thyroid hormone (T4). Thyroid hormone production requires several nutrients, including iodine, selenium, magnesium, B vitamins, zinc, and others. T4 travels out to the tissues and is converted into the more ‘active’ form (T3). This also requires numerous nutrients. Nutrient deficiencies can lead to poor thyroid function.
When things go awry and the communication between the brain and thyroid is disrupted (HPT axis), the body is unable to run smoothly. If hormone levels fall, all your body functions slow down and this is known as hypothyroidism. Your thyroid gland sometimes produces too much hormone and this is known as hyperthyroidism, or an overactive thyroid. Additionally, sometimes patients develop structural abnormalities of the gland known as a goiter. Sometimes nodules form and are often benign, but on occasion, cancerous nodules are identified.
Do You Have Thyroid Disease?
If any of the following statements are true for you, you should consider getting a thorough evaluation, including workup for thyroid disease:
- I am gaining weight for no clear reason or am unable to lose weight with a diet and exercise program.
- My “normal” body temperature is low (below 98.2° when I take it).
- My hands and feet are cold to the touch and I frequently feel cold when others do not.
- I feel fatigued or exhausted more than normal.
- I have a slow pulse, and/or low blood pressure.
- I have been told I have high cholesterol.
- My hair is rough, coarse dry, breaking, brittle, or falling out.
- My skin is rough, coarse, dry, scaly, itchy, and thick.
- My nails have been dry and brittle, and break more easily.
- My eyebrows appear to be thinning, particularly the outer portion.
- My voice has become hoarse and/or ‘gravel-ly’.
- I have pains, aches, stiffness, or tingling in joints, muscles, hands and/or feet.
- I have carpal tunnel syndrome, tendonitis, or plantar fasciitis.
- I am constipated (less than 1 bowel movement daily).
- I feel depressed, restless, moody, sad.
- I have difficulty concentrating or remembering things.
- I have a low sex drive.
- My eyes feel gritty, dry, light-sensitive.
- My neck or throat feels full, with pressure, or larger than usual, and/or I have difficulty swallowing.
- I have puffiness and swelling around the eyes, eyelids, face, feet, hands and feet.
- Women: I am having irregular menstrual cycles (longer, or heavier, or more frequent). I am having difficulty getting pregnant or maintaining a pregnancy.
*Thyroid disease is not the only reason for the above symptoms. A thorough evaluation, including physical exam and laboratory testing, is essential for an appropriate diagnosis.