(Tina Dawn/ VM-Med) –– For such a small gland in your body, your thyroid controls so much. It produces a hormone that regulates and influences all your cells, your organs and your tissue, and overwhelmingly affects your mood and your overall physical and mental health. In simple terms, the thyroid gland is a butterfly-shaped endocrine gland located in the lower front of your neck, which makes thyroid hormones.
These hormones are secreted into the blood and then carried throughout the body. The thyroid controls your body’s metabolism, increases your heart rate and affects how fast things move through the body. For all those reasons –and many more—it is thought to be the most important endocrine organ.
And yet, despite the gland’s importance for our overall health and well-being, millions of people experience thyroid disorder symptoms and are unaware of what they mean. It’s why it’s important to know the signs to look out for, so you and your doctor can take swift action when any symptoms point to a thyroid disorder.
January being Thyroid Awareness Month in the U.S., it’s a good time as any to educate about the disease and how to detect it.
A few important facts about thyroid disease
According to the American Thyroid Association approximately 20 million Americans have some form of thyroid disorder, but because of the variety of symptoms and signs 60 percent of those with a thyroid disease are unaware of their condition.
Some thyroid facts to keep in mind that might help people suspect they may have a thyroid problem and seek diagnosis and treatment.
According to the American Thyroid Association, women are 5-8 times more likely than men to experience thyroid problems. One woman in eight will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
The stats are quite similar in Canada. According to the Thyroid Foundation of Canada, 1 in 10 Canadians suffer from a thyroid condition of one type or another, and of those, as many as 50 percent are undiagnosed. Those are high numbers, yet for some reason people don’t necessarily think of thyroid disease when experiencing symptoms.
Undiagnosed thyroid disorders can greatly affect your health
Undiagnosed thyroid disease can be dangerous in the long run and may put patients at risk for certain serious conditions, such as cardiovascular diseases, infertility and osteoporosis.
Pregnant women with undiagnosed or inadequately treated hypothyroidism have an increased risk of miscarriage, early labour and delivery, and developmental problems in their children. It’s important for your physician to check your thyroid when you become pregnant.
If thyroid disorders have been diagnosed in a family member, you should be extra cautious about any signs of a possible issue. Thyroid disorders are often hereditary and run in the family. Pay close attention to any signs indicating you might be a possible candidate for a diagnosis as well.
Early diagnosis and treatment of thyroid disease is crucial for your short and long-term health. January Awareness Month and other such initiatives raise awareness of the role of a healthy thyroid to help people make the connection between symptoms and any possible thyroid issues.
Some notable signs of a thyroid problem
There are many signs pointing to a possible thyroid problem. Raising awareness of these signs may lead to quicker and earlier diagnosis and treatment.
Hypothyroidism, when your body makes very little thyroid, usually manifests as constantly feeling fatigued and physically and mentally sluggish, unable to lose weight, often gaining weight for no reason, depression, hair loss, constipation, and being unable to tolerate cold temperatures. Those are all signs that you may have an underactive thyroid.
On the other hand, hyperthyroidism is the exact opposite, when your body makes too much thyroid hormone. In this situation, you tend to lose weight easily, have trouble sleeping, you may have heart palpitations, nervousness, you’re always stressed and anxious, are sensitive to heat, and experience irregular periods.
Other signs of a possible thyroid nodule or cancer are an unusual lump or swelling in the neck, a persistent or hoarse cough, or swollen glands. Too many people ignore these symptoms, sometimes for years. If you are experiencing any of these signs don’t dismiss them. Seek medical help and get a quick diagnosis, leading to effective treatment.
Misconceptions about thyroid disease prevent treatment
Lots of misconceptions exist about thyroid disease. Many people mistakenly believe that it’s something that only affects middle-aged women, but in fact anyone of any age or gender can be diagnosed with thyroid issues.
Another common myth is that everyone who develops a thyroid ailment will automatically have the tell-tale signs of a goiter. It’s not true. Because of the prevalence of iodized salt in our modern diets many people suffering from thyroid issues don’t necessarily develop goiters. Having a medical professional examine your symptoms and run the necessary tests will accurately identify the problem.
Many also mistakenly believe that all thyroid nodules are cancer. In fact, most thyroid nodules are benign and not malignant. The more you know about thyroid disorders and their symptoms, the easier it is to detect the signs and seek treatment. Your doctor will help you decide on the appropriate line of treatment. Considering how many complications can arise from untreated thyroid disorders, being aware and staying vigilant of all the tell-tale signs is the best course of