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4 Thyroid Dysfunctions to be Aware of During Thyroid Awareness Month

Imagine trying to get anywhere in your car without one crucial element: the engine. That’s what it would be like for your body to function without the small, butterfly-shaped thyroid gland that sits just below your Adam’s apple. Just like an engine regulates the energy needed for your car to function, your thyroid produces hormones that help your cells function at the appropriate rate.

January is Thyroid Awareness Month link opens in a new window and the perfect time to focus on this tiny powerhouse responsible for the body’s metabolism, growth and maturation. Here’s more on how your thyroid works, what happens when something goes wrong and what to do should you experience symptoms.

Just like engines need gas, your thyroid needs iodine. The iodine needed typically comes from a traditional diet that includes items like iodized table salt, bread, milk and seafood. Your smart thyroid knows just how to get the iodine it needs from your blood and then uses it to produce two important hormones, thyroxine (T4) and triiodothyronine (T3). Together T4 and T3 increase the body’s metabolic rate and in turn, promote growth and maturation. But sometimes, a malfunction occurs. Common thyroid conditions include:1

  • Hyperthyroidism or overactive thyroid: An overactive thyroid produces too many hormones, resulting in a faster metabolism and symptoms such as hot flashes, sweating, weight loss, hair loss, insomnia, racing heartbeat and more. Hyperthyroidism happens for different reasons, including autoimmune disease.2
  • Hypothyroidism or underactive thyroid: An underactive thyroid occurs when too few hormones are produced. People with this condition may experience symptoms such as weight gain, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, dry skin and hair, and possibly, symptoms of depression. Hypothyroidism may occur along with a visual enlargement of the gland.
  • Thyroid nodules. Most thyroid nodules are found during a routine exam and many don’t cause symptoms or require treatment. Nodules are solid or fluid-filled and your doctor will determine a course of treatment, or take a wait-and-see approach, based on the size and type of nodule. Sometimes nodules grow so large they may be felt or cause difficulty breathing or swallowing, but most nodules are benign in nature.3
  • Thyroid cancer. In the U.S., thyroid cancer isn’t considered common, but it is considered highly curable. Symptoms may include a lump in the area of the thyroid gland, hoarseness, difficulty swallowing or throat pain or enlarged lymph nodes in the neck, but oftentimes, patients don’t experience early signs of the disease. The type and stage of thyroid cancer typically determines the course of treatment. Women are at a greater risk than men to develop the disease. Genetics or high levels of radiation exposure can also contribute to increased risk.4

If you or someone you love experiences any of the symptoms listed above, make it a priority to discuss your concerns with your doctor. More than half of the 30 million Americans with thyroid disease aren’t diagnosed, but could likely respond very well to treatment. 5

Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, a periodic thyroid neck check is great way to stay proactive and ensure the likelihood of early detection, should problems arise. Follow these step-by-step instructions from the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists.

Remember, the thyroid gland controls proper function of nearly every cell, organ and tissue in the body. Taking good care of yours helps ensure you live your most healthy life through 2016 and beyond.