Twenty million Americans have a thyroid disorder, and it's believed that many more go undiagnosed. Despite the prevalence of these disorders, many people don't really know what role their thyroid plays in their body's functioning. The gland affects nearly every aspect of your body's functioning, including the proper function of some of your most crucial organs.
The Facts About Your Thyroid
A butterfly-shaped gland in your neck, just below the Adam's Apple, the thyroid may be small but its role in your body is massive. The hormones produced by your thyroid help control the speed of your metabolism, influencing how fast your burn calories and even how fast your heart beats. They regulate growth and body temperature, and are vital for brain development in infancy and childhood.
Thyroid issues are widespread, can be hard to diagnose, and disproportionately affect women:
- Over 12 percent of Americans will develop a thyroid condition in their lifetime.
- One in eight women will develop a thyroid condition during her lifetime.
- Women are five to eight times more likely to have thyroid problems.
- Up to 60 percent of thyroid conditions are estimated to go undiagnosed.
A number of different conditions related to the thyroid can occur, and they can affect you in many different ways.
Comorbidity is also a concern with thyroid conditions. Many of them can occur with or cause other health problems. Hypothyroidism can raise your levels of LDL ("Bad") cholesterol, while hyperthyroidism raises your risk for osteoporosis.
Hyperthyroidism: overactive thyroid, an excessive production of thyroid hormones that can cause the symptoms below.
- Nervousness or anxiety.
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat.
- Difficulty sleeping or disturbed sleep.
- Increased sweating.
- Feeling hot when others are not.
- Unexplained weight loss.
- Diarrhea or more bowel movements than normal.
- Fewer or lighter menstrual periods than normal.
- Muscle weakness.
- Trembling in hands or fingers.
- Eye irritation, redness, bulging eyes, or other vision problems.
Graves's Disease: An autoimmune condition where the body releases antibodies that mimic thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH), causing excessive thyroid production -- in other words, causing hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid Nodule: An abnormal mass or lump on the thyroid gland. Usually small, most are benign. Some may affect hormone production, contributing to hyperthyroidism.
Thyroid Storm: A rare condition in which extremely high levels of thyroid hormones can cause severe illness. This should be treated as a medical emergency. Symptoms to look for include:.
- Diarrhea and vomiting.
- Nervousness and confusion: extreme anxiety and even deliriousness can result.
- Unconsciousness: this could lead to a coma.
Hypothyroidism: underactive thyroid, where your body doesn't produce enough thyroid problems. This can cause the symptoms below.
- Extreme fatigue or tiredness.
- Sadness or depression.
- Slow heart rate.
- Feeling cold when others do not.
- Unexplained weight gain.
- Heavier menstrual bleeding.
- Muscle weakness.
- Joint or muscle pain.
- Puffy face.
- Hoarse voice.
- Dry or thinning hair.
Goiter: Thyroid swelling. This can be harmless, or it could be caused by a number of conditions. A deficiency in iodine, which the thyroid uses as fuel, can cause this. This could also be a sign of thyroiditis.
Thyroiditis: Also known as Hashimoto's disease, this is an inflammation of the thyroid caused by the immune system attacking it. You'll likely be able to spot or feel the swelling of the thyroid.. You're more likely to get it if you're a woman, middle-aged, or have other autoimmune diseases or a family history of thyroiditis. This can potentially cause hypothyroidism.
- Thyroid cancer diagnoses have increased over the past 15 years, while incidence rates of most other cancers have been steady or declining. This may be due to an increased awareness of the disease and ability to detect it.
- More than 53,000 people will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer in the U.S. in 2018, and more than 300,000 people worldwide.
- Thyroid cancer can affect people of any age, but 2 out of 3 people diagnosed are between 30 and 55.
- Most forms of thyroid cancer are treatable when discovered early.
- Less than 10% of thyroid nodules are cancerous in adults; 20% to 30% are cancerous in children.
The most important part of treating thyroid cancer is awareness. Catching it early is vital. Signs of thyroid cancer include:
- A lump in the neck, especially a growing one.
- Swelling in the neck, such as an abnormally large lymph node that does not shrink over time.
- Pressure caused by a growth or lump in the neck.
- Pain in the front of the neck, which may radiate outward, especially up toward the ears.
- Difficulty breathing.
- Difficulty swallowing, or a feeling a lump when swallowing.
- Hoarseness or a changed voice for an extended period with no known cause.
- Frequent coughing unrelated to a cold.
Even if you're not experiencing symptoms, doctors suggest you check yourself for any signs of thyroid cancer twice a year. You can do this at home easily with a "neck check," a simple self-examination that only requires a mirror and a glass of water.
To perform a neck check:
1. Locate your thyroid gland. It's above your collarbone and below your larynx, and also below the Adam's apple on a man's neck.
2. Swallow a drink of water with your head tipped back somewhat.
3. Watch for any bumps or growths in this area of your neck in the mirror as you swallow.
Although this test is important, be sure to ask your doctor to check your thyroid during regular physical exams.