We're baaaaaack! It was nice to take a break during the holiday and celebrate, celebrate, celebrate. But it's a new year, and we're back to business. January is Thyroid Awareness Month. So we're gonna shed some light on this tiny gland. Don't let it's size fool you, the thyroid's motto is "Small but Mighty". Here's why: your thyroid produces hormones (thyroid hormone) that goes to and works on every tissue and organ in your body. This small gland is a part of your endocrine system and controls how you use energy from food (your metabolism) and keeps your organs such as your colon, brain, and heart running as they are supposed to. If for some reason your thyroid is working too little (hypothyroidism) or too much (hyperthyroidism), you may not feel well and will see new problems that you might not necessarily connect to your thyroid. Let's take a walk through who is most at risk for developing thyroid problems and what to look for.
Who's at risk?
-Women- 6-8 times more likely to develop thyroid disease
-People over 50. As we age, organ function slows down.
-History. People with a personal or family history of thyroid disorders or autoimmmune disease are at higher risk.
-Current and former smokers. If you didn't know by now, smoking increases your risk of EVERYTHING.
-Previous thyroid surgery
For more information on risk factors for development of thyroid disorders, click here.
So what could possibly happen to my thyroid and what will that look like? There are multiple thyroid conditions, including but not limited too: goiter, thyroiditis, hyper/hypothyroidism, thyroid storm, myxedema coma, to name a few. Here, I'll focus on thyroiditis and hyper/hypothyroidism, as they're the most common. Thyroid storm and myxedema coma are both life threatening complications from having too much or too little (respectively) thyroid hormone circulating.
Simply put, this is inflammation of the thyroid. There can be multiple causes, such as some sort of attack on the thyroid gland by the body's own immune system (this is the most common type) or exposure to a virus or bacteria. There are no symptoms that are unique to thyroiditis. Depending on what the inflammation is causing- slow or fast destruction of the thyroid gland, symptoms will either be the same as hyper or hypothyroidism, which we'll talk about below. Here's a link for additional information on thyroiditis.
This means there's not enough thyroid hormone circulating to the body tissues. A person with an underactive thyroid has slowed metabolism (cellular function) which causes things like fatigue, weight gain (without having eaten more or worked out less), constipation, feeling cold even when others are comfortable or even warm, dry skin, brittle nails, forgetfulness and depression. The American Thyroid Association is a great resource for information on low thyroid functioning. A hypoactive thyroid can be caused by autoimmune disease (improperly functioning immune system. it attacks your own body), surgical removal of the thyroid (for treatment of and overactive thyroid), thyroiditis, and too much or too little iodine, among other things. Think of it this way- everything in your body is slooooooowed doooooown.
Hyperthyroidism aka Grave's Disease
With this condition, there's too much thyroid hormone on board. People with this issue have metabolism that is sped up (woohoo! eat what I want right? WRONG!). So while unintended weight loss might sound like a great thing, it actually means something's wrong. These people might lose weight (without a change to diet and exercise habits), feel jittery, a racing heart, have difficulty sleeping, lighter or skipped periods, thinning hair, and diarrhea- in addition to other not so fun things. An overactive thyroid is usually caused by overproduction of hormone by the thyroid itself, or nodules/lumps on the gland causing toxic levels of hormone release.
I think I have a thyroid problem, what do I do?
Thyroid problems cannot be left untreated- they can end up deadly. You MUST seek medical treatment if you think you've got an issue. If you don't have a doctor, get to a free clinic, urgent care clinic or emergency room if you can't wait for the free clinic and you're feeling terrible. If you are already being treated for a thyroid condition, make sure you keep your follow up appointments and prescriptions! It's very important that your medication and hormone levels are monitored carefully.
How RNovations can help: RNovations Health is here to help. We provide community health seminars about managing conditions such as diabetes. There we assist people with learning the basics of their disease, medications, and treatments as well as how to make better choices one step at a time. We can help you with medication and nutrition review and counseling, that you can use to manage your health not only during the holidays, but every day thereafter. We also assist with health system navigation so that if you do need services, you are using the most effective mix of services. Give us a call at 804.386.4663 if you want to see how we can be of assistance to you or your group/community. You can also send us an email via the contact us page. We're here for you!
*The information contained above is for educational purposes only. Consult with your physician before making any changes to your diet or treatment regimen. Links provided above do not constitute and endorsement of any organization, rather that the information on the linked page has been verified.