January is Thyroid Awareness Month. Though somewhat small, the thyroid gland performs a major role in the body. It effects many of the body’s most significant organs, including the heart, brain, liver, kidneys, and skin. The thyroid can potentially be either overactive or underactive and both conditions can lead to serious health problems. Maintaining the health and proper function of the thyroid gland is significant to the overall health of the body.
The thyroid is a small, butterfly shaped gland located just below the Adam's apple in the base of the neck. The hormones it produces (both T3 and T4) affect every cell in the body while helping control your body temperature and heart rate, and regulating the production of protein. If the thyroid produces too much or too little T3 or T4, health related problems could result.
The thyroid requires iodine as fuel to produce thyroid hormones. Iodine comes from diet and is found in iodized table salt, seafood, milk, and bread. The thyroid extracts this necessary ingredient from your bloodstream and uses it to make two kinds of hormones: thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). T3 is made from T4 when one iodine atom is removed and is used the most in organs such as the liver, kidneys, and brain. These hormones are secreted into your bloodstream in set quantities to meet the metabolic needs of the cells.
An estimated 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disease, but up to 60% of those with thyroid disease are unaware of their condition. Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid problems. Undiagnosed thyroid disease may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis, and infertility.
When outside influences cause damage to the thyroid, or certain medicines break down communication, the thyroid might not produce enough hormonally. This slows down all of the body’s functions, a condition known as hypothyroidism, or underactive thyroid. The thyroid can also produce too much, sending bodily systems into overdrive, a condition known as hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. These two conditions are most often features of underlying thyroid disease.
Consider An Evaluation If:
- You have a first-degree relative with thyroid disease, or family history of thyroid issues.
- You are taking prescribed medications Lithium or Amiodarone.
- You have had radiation therapy, specifically in the head or neck.
The Bottom Line
The good news about thyroid conditions is that they can be treated. The not-so-great news is these conditions can be physically and mentally challenging. Symptoms range from mild to severe, which can make it hard to work in an everyday capacity. Thyroid conditions can mean more doctor visits to adjust medications and check for dosage changes as needed. Untreated thyroid conditions could potentially lead to elevated cholesterol levels and heart disease. Research has shown there is a strong genetic connection between thyroid diseases and other autoimmune diseases, including arthritis and anemia.