January is National Thyroid Awareness Month. According to the American Thyroid Association, one in 10 people suffer from a thyroid disorder and at least one in eight women will develop a thyroid disorder during her lifetime.
More than half of the people in America that suffer from a thyroid disorder are undiagnosed. Symptom awareness is the first step in getting a diagnosis and treatment.
What is the thyroid and what does it do?
The thyroid is a gland located in the front of your neck just below the throat. The thyroid has many functions that are important for keeping us healthy. It is responsible for sending chemicals that control a person’s body weight, pump blood throughout the body, and control breathing.
What are the different thyroid disorders and what are some different signs and symptoms of these disorders?
Hyperthyroidism is when the body produces more of the thyroid hormone than normal. The most common cause of hyperthyroidism is Grave’s disease. Signs that your body may be making more of the thyroid hormone than normal are:
· Swollen thyroid gland
· Bulging eyes
· Fast and or irregular heart
· High blood pressure
· Hot flashes or increased sweating
· Weight loss
· Trouble sleeping
· Hair falling out or brittle
· Breast development in men
· Irregular or no menstrual periods in women
Hypothyroidism is when your body does not produce enough of the thyroid hormone. If your body doesn’t make enough of the thyroid hormone, it can cause other health problems such as obesity, trouble getting pregnant and heart disease. Signs that your body isn’t making enough thyroid hormone are:
· Feeling more tired than normal
· Feeling cold
· Dry skin
· Swollen face
· Weight gain
· Menstrual periods that are heavier than normal
· Hair that is thinning
· Low heart rate
· Enlarged thyroid (goiter)
· Muscle weakness
Other thyroid disorders include:
A thyroid goiter is an enlargement of the thyroid gland that is not normal. A goiter can be caused by hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism and can also occur with normal thyroid hormone levels. A goiter can be caused by not having enough iodine in the diet, Hashimoto’s disease, Grave’s disease, thyroid nodules, thyroid cancer, pregnancy and thyroiditis. Iodine deficiency thyroid goiter occurs when there is not enough iodine in the diet and the pituitary gland tells the thyroid to make more which causes thyroid growth.
Hashimoto’s disease is an autoimmune disease that causes damage to the thyroid. When the thyroid becomes damaged it is not able to produce the needed amount of the thyroid hormone. When the thyroid tries to produce more of the hormone it causes the goiter.
Grave’s disease is another autoimmune disease that occurs when the body’s immune system makes a hormone that mimics thyroid-stimulating hormone causing the thyroid to make more of the hormone than needed causing hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid cancer is rare but can occur. Symptoms of thyroid cancer include swelling or mass in the thyroid gland, trouble swallowing, hoarseness of the voice, and neck pain.
When women are pregnant the body produces a hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG). Sometimes the HCG hormone causes the thyroid gland to make more of the thyroid hormone causing the thyroid to enlarge.
Thyroiditis is an autoimmune disease caused by inflammation due to an infection that is either bacterial or viral or a medication. Risk factors for a thyroid goiter include not getting the needed amount of iodine in the diet, being over the age of 40, pregnancy, menopause, being a woman, family history of thyroid disorders, and certain medications.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms mentioned, please talk to your healthcare provider to discuss having your thyroid level checked and discuss treatment options if needed.
Darci Moore, CNP, is a nurse practitioner at Fayette County Public Health.