Tired? Achy? It May Be Your Thyroid
The thyroid is a tiny gland in the neck that produces hormones to help regulate metabolism. But, when the thyroid doesn’t work well—or at all—it can wreak havoc on your mental, physical and emotional health.
By KD Reep
About 200 million people throughout the world have thyroid disease, with more than 30 million of those being Americans with thyroid disorders. However, more than half of these citizens remain undiagnosed and untreated, and left unchecked, thyroid disorders can cause depression, tremors, muscle weakness and constant fatigue. Women are five times more likely than men to have an impaired thyroid, and as a person ages, so does her risk of a compromised thyroid.
January is Thyroid Awareness Month, and the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ Thyroid Center has resources available to help you understand what your thyroid is, what it does and how to get it checked for possible problems. The Thyroid Center at UAMS is a multidisciplinary referral center specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of benign and malignant thyroid and parathyroid diseases. The Center’s interdisciplinary team of fellowship-trained surgeons, endocrinologists, pathologists, radiologists and nuclear medicine doctors work in the treatment and long-term management of thyroid malignancies, and its state-of-the-art diagnostic equipment includes video laryngoscopy and high- resolution ultrasound. Through research and education, the UAMS thyroid team strives to advance the knowledge and investigate new treatments of thyroid disorders. To learn more, visit uamshealth.com/ medicalservices/ent/thyroid.
HOW DOES THE THYROID WORK?
The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland in the front of your neck that, if not working properly, can cause your metabolism to speed up (hyperthyroidism) or slow down (hypothyroidism). Many of the symptoms of thyroid conditions can be hard to recognize or present as another type of illness, so it is important to see your doctor to determine if a thyroid condition is what is affecting your health. Symptoms of thyroid imbalance, specifically hyperthyroidism, include rapid weight loss, high blood pressure, anxiety and insomnia. If your metabolism is slow, you may be suffering from hypothyroidism, and its symptoms include weak or slow heartbeat, muscular weakness, constant fatigue, weight gain, depression, slow reflexes, a sensitivity to cold, thick, puffy or dry skin, slowed mental processes and poor memory, and constipation. If you have an enlarged thyroid gland and have difficulty swallowing or breathing, you could have a goiter. Thyroid cancer, which is the fifth most common cancer in women, is the fastest growing in new cases of cancer among women and men because of more awareness and better detection.
WHO’S AT RISK?
According to the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists (AACE) and the American College of Endocrinology (ACE), you should have an evaluation of your thyroid if you have a family history of thyroid disorders, are taking lithium or amiodarone, or you have or have had radiation therapy to the head or neck.
WHAT ARE MY OPTIONS?
If you suspect you have a thyroid condition, thyroid-stimulating hormone testing is the best way to determine whether your thyroid is functioning properly. This is a blood test that can let your doctor know if your thyroid is healthy, under- or overactive, or may be affected by cancerous cells. It is vital to have your thyroid checked each year because it affects your overall health and well-being.
The AACE and ACE utilize a blue paisley ribbon to raise awareness of thyroid conditions. The ribbon made its debut in 2012 as a symbol to unify thyroid awareness efforts, and paisley was chosen because of its resemblance to a cross section of thyroid follicles, the tiny spheres that the thyroid gland is made up of. The awareness month helps educate people about what the thyroid is, what it does, where it’s located and how it affects health and well-being.
With increased awareness and detection, thyroid dysfunction can be identified, diagnosed and successfully treated. In fact, once proper treatment is prescribed, you will live a healthy lifestyle without any restrictions, and if cancer is present, the earlier the detection provides for more treatment options and better chances of survival.
HOW TO PERFORM A SELF EXAM
USE A MIRROR AND FOCUS ON THE LOWER MIDDLE AREA OF YOUR NECK ABOVE THE COLLARBONES.
WHILE FOCUSING ON THIS AREA IN THE MIRROR, TIP YOUR HEAD BACK, TAKE A SIP OF WATER AND SWALLOW.
AS YOU SWALLOW, LOOK AT YOUR NECK AND CHECK FOR ANY BULGES OR PROTRUSIONS IN THIS AREA.
IF YOU SEE ANY BULGES OR PROTRUSIONS, CONTACT YOUR DOCTOR FOR AN APPOINTMENT. IT COULD BE AN ENLARGED THYROID GLAND OR A THYROID NODULE, WHICH SHOULD BE CHECKED TO DETERMINE IF IT IS CANCEROUS OR NEEDS TREATMENT FOR ANOTHER TYPE OF THYROID DISEASE.