Your thyroid controls your body’s metabolism—how quickly you burn calories and how fast your heart beats (according to womenshealth.gov). That’s a BIG responsibility for such a small gland.
Here are some shocking (but true) stats from Bingham Memorial Hospital about thyroids:
- 1 in 8 women will develop a thyroid disorder in their lifetime.
- 20 million Americans have some sort of thyroid disease but 12 million are unaware they have it.
- Women are 5-8X more likely to have thyroid issues than men.
Sadly, these facts are not widely known. Thyroid disorders are MUCH more common than people think, but are not something you should be afraid of—only aware of. Even Oprah Winfrey has a thyroid disorder!
Since January is #ThyroidAwarenessMonth, we decided to share some quick facts about thyroid health that you may not know.
What Is Your Thyroid?
Your thyroid is made up of two glands, connected by a thin strand of tissue, that together form the shape of a butterfly. It’s located on your neck, just below your Adam’s apple, and is about the size of a quarter.
The thyroid’s main responsibility is making hormones. According to the American Thyroid Association, these hormones, “help your body use energy, stay warm and keep the brain, heart, muscles, and other organs working as they should.”
Imagine being responsible for all of that? Those processes are very important, which is why thyroid disorders (though very easily treated) can sometimes have life-long treatments. Treatments vary from medication to surgery (for more extreme cases), and can include dietary restrictions such as being gluten-free.
Types Of Thyroid Disorders
There are many types of thyroid disorders, with some being linked to autoimmune disorders. Today, we’re going to highlight the top three thyroid disorders: hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, and thyroid cancer.
1. Thyroid Cancer
The American Cancer Association states that nearly 3 out of 4 cases of thyroid cancer are found in women. Also, it is the most rapidly increasing cancer in the US, tripling in the past three decades, according to American Cancer Society (ACA). However this could be due to more providers using a thyroid ultrasound, which can detect small thyroid nodules.
Fortunately, most types of thyroid cancer can be diagnosed early and cured completely. Actress Sofia Vergara has spoken out about her experience with thyroid cancer, how she survived, and how she became an advocate for thyroid awareness.
Like all types of cancer, thyroid cancer is basically groups of cells that are growing out of control. The two known causes of thyroid cancer are: genetic predisposition and a history of radiation (especially near the neck and head).
Common signs and symptoms of thyroid cancer are:
- A lump (nodule) on your neck
- Trouble swallowing or breathing
- Pain upon swallowing (described as a “tickle in the throat”)
- Pain in the neck, jaw, or ear
- Unexplained weight loss/gain
Treatments for thyroid cancer range from surgery to radioactive iodine therapy and chemotherapy (for more advanced stages). The four main types of thyroid cancer: papillary (the most common), follicular, medullary, and anaplastic. If you would like to learn more about each type of thyroid cancer, download this free PDF on thyroid cancer.
“Your primary-care physician should palpate your thyroid gland at each routine visit,” Dr.Jochen Lorch, director of the Thyroid Cancer Center at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, told Women’s Health Magazine. “Screening is also easy to do yourself, so thyroid cancer is generally easy to diagnose at early stages. And if you catch it early on, it’s usually not a problem at all.”
2. Hypothyroidism (under-active gland)
Sometimes, your thyroid doesn’t produce enough of the thyroid hormone. The most common form of hypothyroidism is Hashimoto’s autoimmune disease.
Since the thyroid controls your metabolism and can affect your heart rate, common symptoms of hypothyroidism are: unexplained weight gain, feelings of sluggishness (lethargy), slowed heart rate, depression, constipation, and cold hands/feet.
This sounds intimidating, but hypothyroidism can be controlled in almost everyone, with the proper treatment. Treatment usually consists of Thyroxine (T4) Replacement therapy—basically this will make up for the hormones your thyroid can’t make by itself. Your practitioner will guide you to the proper amount, so your body will return to normal.
3. Hyperthyroidism (overactive gland)
The exact opposite of hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism is when your thyroid makes too much thyroid hormone. This affects processes that the thyroid regulates such as metabolism, heart beats, etc. The most common form of hyperthyroidism is Graves‘ disease, an autoimmune disease.
Symptoms of hyperthyroidism include increased heart racing, nervousness, unexplained weight loss, hand tremors, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, diarrhea, and thinning hair/skin. Fortunately, like hypothyroidism, this disorder is easily treated. The treatments may be ongoing or even life-long, but it is manageable, and depends on the person.
The main treatments for hyperthyroidism are: beta-blockers (which stop the overproduction of the thyroid hormone) or antithyroid agents, (which block the thyroid’s ability to make new hormones). For more serious cases, your practitioner may recommend surgery or radioactive iodine, which damages the thyroid cells.
If you are experiencing any symptoms of hypothyroidism, hyperthyroidism, or thyroid cancer, please contact your healthcare practitioner or endocrinologist. Even if you are not experiencing symptoms, it is always good to have a check-up.
ONE in EIGHT women are affected by thyroid disorders. Ask your family or friends if they (or someone they know) have experienced thyroid issues. You’ll be surprised by how many people you know are affected! Your health matters. Your thyroid matters. Know the facts, and empower yourself and others with education.