Roughly 1 in 10 (about 20 million) Americans have some form of thyroid disease but 60% of these individuals remain undiagnosed. Thyroid disease is more common than diabetes or heart disease.
Undiagnosed thyroid disease, both overactive and underactive can lead to big health problems, such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoporosis and infertility.
Thyroid Awareness Month hopes to bring people’s attention to this small but very important gland.
About your Thyroid
The thyroid is a small, butterfly-shaped gland that sits at the base of the neck. The thyroid takes the iodine food we eat and makes two hormones: triiodothyronine (T3) and thyroxine (T4). The pituitary gland that controls the thyroid releases thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) into the bloodstream, causing the thyroid gland to release the thyroid hormones created. This gland plays a major role in how many of our body’s organs, including the brain, liver, heart, kidneys and skin function as well as our overall well-being.
What are the different types of thyroid disease?
If you suspect your thyroid is not working correctly, a doctor will typically consider two questions when diagnosing you:
1. Is your thyroid over producing the thyroid hormone? 2. Has your thyroid changed structure i.e. developed a lump, better known as a goiter?
Many thyroid diseases display both characteristics and are considered when diagnosing. There are two main types of thyroid disease, hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) and hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid).
Hypothyroidism occurs when your thyroid does not produce enough hormone and slows down all your body’s function. You may feel tired, cold and depressed. You may gain weight even though you are not overeating. There are a several reasons your thyroid under produces and becomes inflamed, the most common cause in the United States is called Hashimoto’s thyroiditis. Your antibodies actually consider your thyroid a foreign invader and attack its own immune system, which over time can destroy your thyroid.
Hyperthyroidism on the hand is when you produce too much hormone and causes your system to go into overdrive. You will feel wired, overheated, irritable, anxious and have trouble sleeping. You may lose weight even though you are eating well. The most common cause in the United States is Graves’ disease, an autoimmune disease that causes the body’s antibodies to attack the gland. This results is over stimulation of the thyroid and too much hormone produced.
How to diagnose?
Unfortunately, the many symptoms of these diseases are hidden or mimic other diseases. The best way to diagnose is to ask your doctor for a TSH test, it will measure how much of the thyroid hormone is in your blood. It measures the hormone from both the thyroid itself and the TSH released from the pituitary gland.
Another option to test for hyperthyroidism is an iodide uptake test, which monitors the amount of iodide adsorbed by the thyroid gland.
Medications and surgery are the most effective forms of treatment for restoring the glands hormone levels. For those that suffer from hyperthyroidism, the thyroid hormone production can be slowed or stop entirely with radioactive iodide treatment, anti-thyroid medication such as propylthiouracil or methimazole, and occasionally surgery. If you suffer from hypothyroidism you will need to take thyroid hormone replacement for the rest of your life and the most commonly prescribed medication is levothyroxine.
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