National Thyroid Awareness Month happens every year in January.
Your thyroid is an important gland that produces hormones your body needs for metabolism, growth, and development.
Your thyroid may produce too much (hyperthyroidism) or too little (hypothyroidism) thyroid hormone.
You’ve probably heard of the thyroid gland. But if you’re like many Americans, you may not know where it is or what it does. You may not even know that you have thyroid disease.
About 20 million Americans have thyroid disease. Yet up to 60% of them are unaware of it. That’s because you may not have any symptoms.
The thyroid is essential to your health, and it plays an important role in many different bodily processes and systems. This includes everything from growth and development to daily metabolism. Your thyroid is even important for healthy kidney and heart function.
January is National Thyroid Awareness Month, a great time to learn more about your thyroid and schedule an appointment to get it checked. In this post, we’ll tell you more about the thyroid, explore thyroid conditions, and give you a list of tests that measure your thyroid health.
The organization also raises funds to support thyroid research. The research looks at prevention, treatments, and cures for thyroid diseases and cancers. In addition, Thyroid Awareness Month highlights the work of physicians, scientists, and specialists doing thyroid research, education, and patient care.
So what’s the big deal with the thyroid? The thyroid is a butterfly-shaped gland located in the front of your neck. It’s primary job is to produce hormones that keep your metabolism running smoothly. It plays a big role in your daily energy levels.
You may develop problems when your thyroid produces too much or too little thyroid hormone. If your thyroid makes too much hormone, you may have hyperthyroidism. If your thyroid doesn’t produce enough hormone, you may have hypothyroidism.
There are a few other thyroid conditions that you should be familiar with:
Graves’ disease is the most common form of hyperthyroidism.
Your thyroid gland may swell to a larger size, which is called a goiter.
A thyroid nodule is an unhealthy growth in thyroid cells, which then forms a lump within the gland.
Both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism can cause a wide range of symptoms and health problems. If you’re having any of the following symptoms, schedule a visit with your provider. They can request some simple blood tests to check your thyroid hormones.
Signs of hyperthyroidism — when your body produces too much hormone — include:
Fine or brittle hair
Muscle weakness, most often in your upper arms or thighs
Frequent bowel movements
Light or less frequent menstrual cycles
When your thyroid gland doesn’t produce enough hormone, you may have symptoms of hypothyroidism. Symptoms can include:
Thyroid cancer is a rare but highly treatable cancer. About 1% of people in the U.S. are diagnosed with thyroid cancer in their lifetimes. There are several types of thyroid cancer, and all are treatable, even in advanced stages.
The types of thyroid cancer include:
Papillary thyroid cancer: This cancer is the most common type of thyroid cancer. Up to 80% of people with thyroid cancer have papillary thyroid cancer. It grows and spreads slowly to the neck’s lymph nodes.
Follicular thyroid cancer: About 10% of thyroid cancers are follicular. This type of cancer can spread to the neck lymph nodes and other parts of your body, such as the lungs and bones.
Medullary thyroid cancer: Medullary thyroid cancer is less common; about 2% of all thyroid cancers are medullary. You can inherit medullary thyroid cancer if it runs in your family. A blood test can determine if you’ve inherited the gene for this cancer. Knowing this can help with early diagnosis and treatment.
Anaplastic thyroid cancer: This rare type of thyroid cancer is advanced and aggressive. It occurs in less than 2% of people with thyroid cancer.
Routine testing can help you catch thyroid issues early. Your healthcare provider may order tests to check your thyroid as part of your yearly checkup. They may start with a series of blood tests like the ones listed below:
A TSH test checks how much TSH hormone your pituitary gland makes. This hormone stimulates the thyroid to make thyroid hormone. A high level often means that you have hypothyroidism. A low level usually means that you have hyperthyroidism.
T4 is a hormone produced by your thyroid. High levels of T4 may mean that you have hyperthyroidism, and low levels may mean that you have hypothyroidism.
T3 is another hormone made by your thyroid. Your provider may order a T3 test to double check for hyperthyroidism, even if your T4 test came back normal.
Antibody tests can help your provider diagnose an autoimmune thyroid disorder, such as Graves’ disease or Hashimoto’s disease.
An ultrasound is a painless procedure that takes images of your thyroid and any lumps in your neck.
A thyroid scan uses a special camera to take pictures of your thyroid. Before the scan, you get a shot, liquid, or capsule with radioactive iodine. Radioactive iodine can help your provider find what’s causing hyperthyroidism.
Your provider may also recommend a radioactive iodine uptake test to diagnose thyroid issues. Before the test, you swallow a small amount of radioactive iodine. A gamma probe — a tool to help check on your thyroid — is placed near your thyroid. It measures how much radioactive iodine your thyroid takes up.
If your healthcare provider discovers a lump in your neck, they may take a small tissue sample using a very small needle. This procedure is called fine needle aspiration — a type of biopsy. The sample is sent to a lab and will show if the lump is cancerous or noncancerous.
January — Thyroid Awareness Month — is a good month to talk to your healthcare provider about your thyroid. If you have regular healthcare checkups and don’t have symptoms, your provider may not recommend a screening. But if you do have symptoms, your provider may decide to run some of the tests mentioned above.
Your thyroid gland plays an important role in your body by producing hormones for metabolism, growth, and development. There are a variety of conditions that can affect how well your thyroid works. If you suspect that you have a thyroid problem, it’s best to see your healthcare provider. Thyroid conditions can be easily diagnosed and treated. It’s also important to make sure that you get your thyroid checked as part of your yearly health exam.
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