While small in size, your thyroid is a very important gland in your body. The thyroid is found at the base of your neck. Your thyroid is one of the most crucial glands for regulating your body functions with the hormones that it delivers to your body. The hormones help regulate your heart rate, breathing, metabolism, body temperature, cholesterol levels and your nervous system just to name a few. If you are constantly feeling fatigued, not sleeping and losing your hair, it might pay to ask your health care provider if you may have a thyroid disease.
Let’s Break Down the Statistics
The American Thyroid Association (ATA) provided these statistics on thyroid disease in the United States. (http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/thyro.html)
- There is an estimated 20 million Americans with some type of thyroid disease.
- Women are five to eight times more likely than men to have thyroid issues.
- One woman out of eight will develop thyroid disease in their lifetime.
- There may be up to 60% of people who don’t know they have a thyroid disease.
Statistics from the NIH on thyroid cancer are:
- Approximately 1.1 percent of men and women will be diagnosed with thyroid cancer at some point during their lifetime, based on 2010-2012 data.
- In 2013, there were an estimated 637,115 people living with thyroid cancer in the United States. (http://seer.cancer.gov/statfacts/html/thyro.html)
Let’s Get to Know Thyroid Diseases and Symptoms
Several types of thyroid diseases may affect your health including hyperthyroidism, hypothyroidism, goiters and thyroid cancer.
Hyperthyroidism is diagnosed when your thyroid is making and releasing more thyroid hormone than your body needs. Due to the levels of hormones, your body functions such as your heart rate and metabolism may speed up.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism are:
- Weight loss when you are not trying to purposely lose weight
- Excessive sweating
- Rapid heart beat
- Change in bowel movements
- Reduced menstrual cycles or lighter cycles
- Panic attacks
- Hair loss
Your health care provider may prescribe an anti-thyroid medication for your symptoms. A different treatment may be radioactive iodine therapy. In some cases, surgery may be determined to be the best course of treatment.
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid does not make enough thyroid hormone. Due to the decreased amounts of hormone, your metabolism will slow. Hypothyroidism can be caused by removal of your thyroid, exposure to radiation (due to cancer radiation therapy) and treatment for hyperthyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease, which can affect women in their middle ages, can lead to hypothyroidism. Hashimoto’s disease is when your immune system attacks your thyroid gland.
Symptoms of hypothyroidism are:
- Feeling cold
- Weight gain, even when not increasing your calories
- Sadness, depression
- Slow heart rate
- Lack of sweat
- Dry hair and skin
- Increased menstrual bleeding
Thyroid cancer may be found when a woman has a lump in the thyroid, but many times there are no symptoms.
- Lump in thyroid area
- Lump in lymph node
- Pain in neck
- Throat pain
Thyroid cancer is treatable and deaths from this type of cancer remain low. The American Cancer Society is estimating around 62,450 new cases of thyroid cancer in 2016. The five year survival rate of thyroid cancer is nearly 100% if the cancer is found in its early stages.
A Goiter is diagnosed when there is an enlargement of the thyroid gland. This enlargement can be due to lack of iodine in your diet or due to an autoimmune disease.
Symptoms of a goiter are:
- Swelling in the thyroid area
Treatment of a goiter can include medication, radioactive iodine therapy or surgery.
Let’s Talk About Thyroid Disease during Pregnancy
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can occur during a pregnancy and it is imperative that you discuss treatment with your OB/GYN. Your doctor can monitor your disease and change medication or treatment plans to keep both you and your baby healthy. If your disease is left untreated, there is a risk of premature birth or miscarriage. Preeclampsia is another severe and potentially fatal complication of a thyroid disease during pregnancy.
Let’s Discuss Diagnostic Tests for Thyroid Disease
Your physician, knowing your health background and your symptoms would be the one to choose the tests to determine if you have a thyroid issue. One common test for how well your thyroid is functioning is a blood test measuring your TSH. TSH is your thyroid stimulating hormone which is produced by your pituitary gland. If your TSH level is high, you may have hypothyroidism. If your TSH level is low, you may be diagnosed with hyperthyroidism. A normal TSH level shows that your thyroid is doing its job. Other important blood tests that your doctor may require are called a T4 (thyroxine) and a T3 (triiodothyronine). Your health care provider may refer you to an endocrinologist who specializes in hormonal imbalances.
Let’s Know Your Body
There is not a list of preventions I can give you so you can prevent a thyroid disease. But knowledge of the symptoms and knowing your own body allows you to realize when you need to discuss symptoms with your health provider. Thyroid diseases are often treatable! So when you aren’t sure, don’t ignore symptoms, talk to your physician. Because it all beings with a healthy woman…
Sue Ann Thompson is founder and president of the Wisconsin Women’s Health Foundation (WWHF), a statewide non-profit organization whose mission is to help Wisconsin women and their families reach their healthiest potential. WWHF provides programs and conducts forums that focus on education, prevention, and early detection; connects individuals to health resources; produces and distributes the most up-to-date health education and resource materials; and, awards grants and scholarships to women health researchers and related community non-profits. To learn more, visit wwhf.org or call 1-800-448-5148.