January is Thyroid Awareness Month! Who knew that a small, butterfly-shaped gland at the base of your neck could be so important for your health? A vital part of the endocrine system, the thyroid “influences almost all of the metabolic processes in your body through the hormones it produces,” according to WebMD. Thyroid issues can include a goiter (irregular growth of the thyroid gland), nodules (solid or fluid-filled lumps that are typically benign) or thyroid cancer, hyperthyroidism/Grave’s disease (an autoimmune disorder that leads to the overproduction of thyroid hormones), hypothyroidism (when the thyroid doesn’t make enough hormones), and Hashimoto’s disease (an autoimmune disorder that destroys the thyroid’s hormone-producing cells), per The Mayo Clinic.
What are the risk factors of thyroid disease?
According to The Cleveland Clinic, “Thyroid disease is very common, with an estimated 20 million people in the United States having some type of thyroid disorder. A woman is about five to eight times more likely to be diagnosed with a thyroid condition than a man.” Other risk factors include a family history of thyroid issues, being over the age of 60, having other autoimmune conditions (such as Type 1 diabetes, lupus, or rheumatoid arthritis), excessive amounts of iodine (through medicine or foods), and treatment for a past thyroid condition or cancer (including a thyroidectomy or radiation). In addition, Penn Medicine notes that benign thyroid or pituitary gland growths, and thyroiditis (inflammation of the thyroid) after pregnancy or viral infections, can also cause thyroid disease.
Is it possible to prevent thyroid disease?
There is little you can do to prevent thyroid disease, however, there are steps you can take to help to keep your thyroid as healthy as possible, including eating a healthy diet, avoiding highly-processed foods, limiting your exposure to radiation, and not smoking.
What are the symptoms of thyroid disease?
Depending on the type of thyroid condition (hypo or hyper), symptoms can include weight loss or gain, high or low blood pressure, rapid or slow heart rate, heat or cold intolerance, insomnia or extreme fatigue, anxiety or depression, diarrhea or constipation, brain fog, and skin, hair, and nail changes, Grave’s disease may also lead to protruding eyes (exophthalmos).
What are the signs of thyroid cancer?
According to The National Cancer Institute, signs of thyroid cancer can include a lump in the neck, trouble breathing or swallowing, pain when swallowing, and hoarseness.
How is a thyroid condition diagnosed?
Doctors will likely feel your neck to look for signs of thyroid abnormalities, such as lumps or swelling, during your annual physical exam. If you have any signs, symptoms, or significant risk factors, your doctor may order a thyroid ultrasound, as well as blood tests to measure thyroid hormones. Per Verywellhealth, these tests may include:
- Thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) test
• Total T4/total thyroxine
• Free T4/free thyroxine
• Total T3/total triiodothyronine
• Free T3/free triiodothyronine
• Reverse T3
• Thyroglobulin/thyroid-binding globulin (TBG)
• Thyroid peroxidase antibodies (TPOAb)/antithyroid peroxidase antibodies
• Thyroglobulin antibodies/antithyroglobulin antibodies
• Thyroid-receptor antibodies (TRAb)
• Thyroid-stimulating immunoglobulins (TSI)
If thyroid cancer is suspected, other tests, including a CAT scan, will likely be ordered.
What is the treatment for thyroid conditions?
Hypothyroidism can be managed with medications that add thyroid hormones back into your body, while hyperthyroidism is typically treated with medications that stop the thyroid from overproducing hormones, according to The Cleveland Clinic. Regular, routine blood work will also be in order, to make sure the dosage is working. Sometimes, radioactive iodine will be used to damage overactive thyroid cells, or in severe cases, a thyroidectomy (surgery) will be scheduled.
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